Tailings Regulation: a South Australian Perspective

Regulation of mine waste facilities

Greg Smith

SA Department of the Premier and Cabinet

The South Australian mining regulatory framework has adopted a risk, outcomes and performance based approach, which has been in place for more than 10 years. This approach to regulation is increasingly being implemented in mining jurisdictions around Australia and the world. The risk, outcomes and performance based approach to regulation focuses on environmental outcomes to be achieved through development, operation and closure of mining projects and measurable criteria that demonstrate achievement of the outcomes. A performance based approach focuses on the environmental outcomes rather than seeking to regulate the implementation of a specific strategy, design or management plan.

Tailings Storage Facilities (TSFs) are significant elements of many major mine and each is unique with site specific factors such a materials to be stored, design, size, location, climate, sensitive receptors, operating history of the facility (i.e. changes to design), site culture and company capability amongst a range of other factors. Key principles of best practice regulation include the management of tailings and TSFs in a way that provides safe, stable and economic storage of tailings;  complies with all legislative requirements; and presents negligible public health and safety risks. Tailings storage must also have acceptably low social and environmental impacts, both on and off site, during operation and indefinitely post closure. Appropriate regulation must consider the site specific factors and principles of mine waste management in order to be risk based and outcomes focused.

A number of new mining proposals including tailings storage facilities (TSF) have recently been assessed and approved in South Australia. The location, size, design, sensitive receptors, public interest and therefore risk profiles of these TSF’s have varied substantially between these new mining proposals. These considerations were reflected in the assessment of the TSFs and the resulting mining lease conditions of approval including the environmental outcomes to be achieved over the life of the facilities. This paper and the accompanying presentation will provide case studies of recently approved TSFs within South Australia and the regulatory framework for each case.

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