Jiri Herza, Kyle Smith, Ryan Singh
Following the failures of Samarco and Feijão dams, brittle failure has become a frequently discussed topic within the geotechnical community. The post-failure review of the Feijão Dam identified that the sudden failure of the dam was caused in part by tailings exhibiting brittle behaviour. Brittle failure has also been identified to be a contributing factor in many previous tailings storage facilities failures. Of concern to the tailings community was the finding that there were no apparent signs of distress prior to the failures, which characterises brittle failure.
The industry’s concern regarding the presence of brittle materials within tailings storage facilities, particularly when featuring upstream raises is evident in the requirements of the newly published Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, which includes a requirement to “Identify and address brittle failure modes with conservative design criteria…”. This is also reflected in ANCOLD Guideline on Tailings Dams, which provides recommendations for conservative design assumptions if materials are found to be susceptible to static liquefaction which is noted to be a brittle subset of contractive materials. The ICMM’s Good Practice Guide for tailings management uses the term
brittle on numerous occasions and even refers to “credible brittle failure modes” when discussing the performance based approach. Despite its frequent use, the term brittle failure has not been defined in any of the listed references and the authors of this paper are not aware of the any clear geotechnical definition for brittle embankment failure in literature.
Brittleness, on the other hand, is a well-known geotechnical parameter that describes the degree of reduction of the soil shear resistance after reaching the peak strength. Bishop (1967) described the soil brittleness in the context of progressive failure of clays by means of a brittleness index, which is the ratio of the shear resistance loss to the peak shear strength. In recent years, the brittleness index has become a common soil parameter that is used as an indicator for tailings susceptibility to liquefaction. The brittleness index does not consider the rate at which the soil resistance reduces, and it ignores the stress strain relationship. As a result, the same brittleness index can be calculated for a soil that collapses over a very small strain range and a soil that gradually reduces its shear resistance over extensive strain levels as long as both soils have similar peak and residual shear strengths.
This paper discusses the root causes of brittle behaviour of tailings, summarises the current approach for brittleness assessment and recommends considerations and methods to assess and deal with potentially brittle soils within TSFs.
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Dr Mark Leonard
The quantification of the 85% and 95% hazard fractiles, as required by the ANCOLD 2019 Guidelines for design of dams, is investigated. It is found that there are four independent sources of uncertainty in the PSHA input models that have a significant effect on the hazard. So all four need to be quantified, particularly for Extreme and High A consequent dams. It is also found that the uncertainty of many of the other parameters, which are routinely included in probabilistic seismic hazard assessments, have minimal effect on either the mean or the higher fractiles so do not necessarily need to be routinely included. The complexity of the input models required to satisfy the new standards are substantially higher than those routinely used in prior decades.
Ryan Singh, Jiri Herza, James Thorp, Michael Ashley
Performance-based risk-informed decision making is an underlying principle of the Global Industry
Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM). While owners make significant efforts to align with this
principle, commonly used risk assessment and management practices in the mining industry have largely been based on the HSE principles, which consider more frequent, lower consequence incidents.
As a result, the existing risk assessment frameworks do not provide the owners with a comprehensive understanding of the risk profiles of their tailings storage facilities (TSFs). Without the understanding of a facility’s risk profile, the owners cannot appreciate how changes to their facility, processes and operational activities may impact the risk profile. A large step-change in thinking is therefore required in risk assessment practices for the owner to align their TSF management with GISTM requirements.
Beyond risk assessments, the mining industry has other valuable concepts to manage the safety of their tailings management practices, such as Critical Controls, however, commonly used risk assessment and management practices do not incorporate these concepts.
This paper explores commonly used risk assessment practices and the concepts of Critical Controls. It proposes how these concepts can be linked, with Critical Controls being embedded in the risk assessment process. The outcomes of linking these concepts result in an estimation of the effectiveness of the Critical Controls and how they can be improved to demonstrably reduce the risk presented by a TSF. A case study has been included to demonstrate the benefits of linking risk assessment with Critical Controls and how owners can readily identify deficiencies and efficiently manage the risk profiles of their facilities.
Ryan Cantrill, Petros Armenis & Angus Cannon
Large Australian dams span a range of ages and were designed and constructed to the prevailing
standards and practices of the day. Since that time, there has been a veritable explosion in monitoring and surveillance technologies available to dam owners to assist with risk management of their portfolio. Coupled with this has been the formalization and ongoing development of regulatory frameworks across the industry.
This paper endeavours to share Sunwater’s recent experience on this topic. Specifically, the following question is considered – how best to apply modern monitoring and surveillance technologies to manage dam safety risks associated with decades old structures, all while still meeting regulatory requirements? In answering this question, the authors necessarily had to consider several inputs including – physical condition of the existing assets; analysis of existing controls and mitigation measures; risk assessment and risk profile of the assets; and operational constraints. As always, outputs invariably required the prioritization of recommendations.
While dam owners must strive to comply with a standard and accepted way of managing their portfolio, it is vital they recognize and address the unique risks that each structure presents. It therefore follows that owners must be prepared to allow the time and provide the necessary resources when formulating a monitoring and surveillance program commensurate with the dam safety risk that their respective portfolio presents
Dan Clark, Joanne Stephenson, Trevor Allen
We present earthquake ground motions based upon a paleoseismically-validated characteristic earthquake scenario for the ~ 48 km-long Avonmore scarp, which overlies the Meadow Valley Fault, east of Bendigo, Victoria. The results from the moment magnitude MW 7.1 scenario earthquake indicate that ground motions are sufficient to be of concern to nearby mining and water infrastructure. Specifically, the estimated median peak ground acceleration (PGA) exceeds 0.5 g to more than ~ 10 km from the source fault, and a 0.09 g PGA liquefaction threshold is exceeded out to approximately 50-70 kilometres. Liquefaction of susceptible materials, such as mine tailings, may occur to much greater distances. Our study underscores the importance of identifying and characterising potentially active faults in proximity to high failure-consequence dams, including mine tailings dams, particularly in light of the requirement to manage tailing dams for a prolonged period after mine closure.
Vicent Espert, Peter Buchanan, Colleen Baker, Malcolm Barker, Mark Locke
Mangrove Creek dam is an 80 m high CFRD constructed between 1976 and 1982 for water supply to the NSW Central Coast area, and is currently operated by Central Coast Council (CCC). The dam is classified as a ‘High A’ Consequence Category dam for both Sunny Day and Flood breach in accordance with ANCOLD guidelines.
Previous assessments of the dam identified that it would not be able to safely pass the ANCOLD Fallback flood capacity of the PMP flood in its current configuration. As such, the dam has been operated at a restricted full supply level for many years.
In 2020, GHD was engaged by CCC to develop a concept and detailed design to increase the spillway capacity using a standards-based approach to achieve the flood capacity fallback position. The first phases of this contract also required GHD to undertake additional investigations and analyses of various aspects of the dam and spillway to confirm the scope of works for the upgrade. During this review, it became evident that although the spillway capacity does not meet the ANCOLD fallback position, the Annual Exceedance Probability (AEP) of the existing capacity was relatively low and could potentially be deemed acceptable from a risk-based position.
A Risk Assessment was subsequently undertaken, with a SFAIRP assessment developed based on the new Dam Safety NSW guidelines. This assessment may be the first one to be completed for a major dam using the Dam Safety NSW guidelines. This paper discusses the different outcomes for a standards-based ‘Fallback’/’Simplified’ criteria and risk criteria based on DS NSW regulations, as well as the investigations developed to maintain confidence in the assessment. In addition, it describes a practical case for the application of SFAIRP criteria to a major dam.
In the case of Mangrove Creek Dam, the application of the new DS NSW Guidelines resulted in the dam being assessed as acceptable in its current state, with the FSL returned to the original design level. The outcome provided significant savings to the client, by avoiding costly upgrade works and avoiding disruption to the operation of the storage – a real success story.