Cracks seen before dam collapse at BHP, Vale joint venture: report – by Elizabeth Redman and Matt Chambers (The Australian – August 30, 2016)

Mining giant BHP Billiton says it was not aware that the tailings dam at its Samarco joint venture in Brazil was at risk of collapsing, despite a series of efforts over years to fix its structural defects.

The assertion follows the release of a report into the technical causes of the deadly dam collapse at the Samarco mine in November, 2015, which caused a massive spill of waste material, polluted a major river and killed at least 19 people.

According to a new report by geotechnical specialists, the dam’s collapse was a result of construction defects, a poor redesign and safety criteria not being met, with the failure accelerated by three small earthquakes. Cracks were evident at the tailings dam more than a year before it failed. The investigation was commissioned by BHP Billiton and Vale, along with their Samarco joint venture.

“We have no reason to believe that anyone at BHP had any information that indicated that the dam was in danger of collapsing,” BHP’s chief commercial officer Dean Dalla Valle told reporters after the release of the report in Brazil.

He ruled out cost-cutting by the group having any role in the disaster, saying there was no evidence anyone had prioritised production over safety. Fat Prophets resources analyst David Lennox said the initial report “seems to be somewhat damaging” for BHP Billiton and Vale.

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