2009 – Management of Tailings In Australia, Past, Present and Future

Russ McConnell

Australia’s prosperity is closely linked to the development of mining. Tailings production has always been associated with mining and acceptable management strategies of tailings have progressively developed to meet ever changing community expectations. In the late 1800’s, tailings were typically dumped into streams or onto land as mullock heaps, resulting in severe pollution. Practices gradually changed so that by the 1920’s tailings were often held in dams or ponds. However failures were common with slugs of slimes and contaminants moving down watercourses. For the purpose of protecting life and property, States started regulation of the management of tailings under various dam safety umbrellas in the late 1980’s. In 1995, Queensland, in consultation with stakeholders, produced tailings management guidelines, which enunciated good tailings management principles. Later guidelines have incorporated many of these principles. In 2002, the regulation of tailings disposal in Queensland moved into the Environment and Resource Management framework, where the emphasis is on obtaining a sustainable environment. Emerging practices are seeking better ways of incorporating mine tailings into the environment with minimal impact. Backfilling of mine workings, integration of mine waste facilities and beneficial use are some of the methods now used for tailings disposal. This paper looks at the historical management of tailings, the evolving regulatory framework, and the emerging practices for protecting the environment while allowing for development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends.

Keywords: Dams, Tailings, TSF, Community, River Pollution, Cleanup, Risk, Mining

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