The NSW Resources Regulator identified tailings storage facilities management as a compliance priority in early 2018. A compliance priority project was initiated to establish, among other things, a whole-of-government approach to regulating tailings storage facilities across both the coal and metalliferous mining sectors. This was to ensure that title holders and mine operators were aware of their obligations and to promote leading practice tailings management.

The project involved collaboration from the Regulator with other agencies including the Dam Safety Committee, Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. Professor David Williams (University of Queensland), a leading expert in tailings management, was engaged to provide technical advice as part of the project.

The project:

  • identified specific risk and knowledge gaps that industry will need to address in order to meet their statutory compliance obligations
  • helped improve the knowledge base of the regulators and industry through the identification of relevant guidelines, standards, best practice as well as emerging technologies/innovations with tailings treatment/processing and disposal
  • identified the specific roles of the various regulators and associated legislative frameworks, which will lead to opportunities for a more collaborative whole-of-government regulatory approach.
  • identified the need for legislative reform to ensure regulatory oversight of metalliferous sector tailings are comparable with existing arrangements in the coal sector.

The project identified deficiencies in how the mining industry understands the risks associated with tailings management and adoption of appropriate controls for hazards. In particular, the mining industry must be aware that the risks to tailing management need to be considered throughout the life of a mining operation (design, construction, operation and decommissioning) to enable effective implementation of controls that will ensure operations are conducted in a safe and sustainable manner.

The compliance priority project also identified that further research and innovation should focus on dewatered tailings. This would help to combine the material with other waste products such as waste rock to allow for integrated waste emplacement or co-disposal as a means to shift away from conventional slurry tailings dams.