WA gold mine suspends processing operations after tailings dam cracks detected

WA gold mine suspends processing operations after tailings dam cracks detected

A gold mine in WA’s remote Pilbara has been forced to suspend its processing operations, after cracking was detected at a tailings dam on site.

Key points:

  • “Cracking and seepage” was discovered at a Telfer tailings dam in December
  • WorkSafe has issued a prohibition notice to limit use of the dam
  •  Mine Safety inspectors are monitoring the situation 

Newmont suspended processing at its Telfer mine, 400 kilometres south east of Port Hedland in the remote east Pilbara, on 24 December, 2023.

The company said in a statement “cracking and seepage” had been discovered on an internal embankment.

“Following initial detection of cracking, Telfer activated its response plan including closure of some work areas near the TSFs while analysis and monitoring was undertaken using radar and drone technology,” it said.

On Thursday evening, a Department of Energy, Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DEMIRS) spokesperson said the company had told them there were “no tailings or water seeping from the internal embankment”.

“DEMIRS continues to liaise with Newmont to ensure monitoring results are not indicating any impact to groundwater quality as a result of the cracking identified in the internal embankment,” the spokesperson said.

“Newmont notified DEMIRS of the cracking on 24 December 2023 and that Telfer had implemented interim measures including shutting the processing plant.

“The company provided DEMIRS with a geotechnical update on 27 December 2023, and this informed the basis of the WorkSafe inspector’s prohibition notice which was issued on the same day.”

Tailings dams are used on mine sites to store by-products of mining operations which can be highly toxic. 

Newmont acquired Telfer from its previous owner, Newcrest, in November last year(file photo: ABC News)

Telfer is 200 kilometres east of the nearest towns Marble Bar and Nullagine.

On 6 January, Newmont’s Engineer of Record signed off on the stability of the facilities impacted, but two days later, DEMIRS issued a prohibition notice limiting use of the tailings facility.

“[The prohibition notice] requires the operator to limit the use of the affected part of the tailings storage facility until repair work has been done,” acting WorkSafe Commissioner Sally North said.

Mining operations at Telfer are continuing despite processing being temporarily suspended.

Newmont, which was acquired from Telfer’s former owner Newcrest just two months ago, has not responded to ABC questions relating to the extent and length of the shutdown.

A company spokesperson said it was “liaising closely with regulators … to facilitate safe reopening”.

“Newmont will also undertake a post-incident review to determine the root cause of this issue and identify measures to prevent recurrence.” 

WA Premier Roger Cook described the incident as a “very concerning development.”

“We expect to be able to ensure that their facility operates safely and with all of the environmental conditions in mind, so we expect them to be able to address that issue,” he said.

WorkSafe Mines Safety inspectors are continuing to monitor the situation.

Posted , updated 

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