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Questions 01 to 05 refer to the text below.

WATER RISK IN MINING: ANALYSIS OF THE SAMARCO DAM FAILURE


Roger L. Burritt, Katherine L. Christ
Demand for freshwater is increasing rapidly because of predicted global population growth
of over 30% to nearly 10 billion by 2050 (United Nations, 2015). Meanwhile supply of quality
water is being threatened by uncertainties of climate change and extreme weather events as well
as increasing levels of pollution making it hard for natural restoration processes to be effective
(Fogel and Palmer, 2014). As demand for freshwater is expected to exceed supply by as much as
40% by 2030 (Lohani et al., 2016) the expected outcome is emergence of major local and global
water crises (Vörösmarty et al., 2015).
Mining, as one of the most water-intensive industries, has long been concerned about
water management (Gunson et al., 2012). Laurence et al. (2011) acknowledge the point that
“water is integral to virtually all mining activities and typically is the prime medium that can carry
pollutant into the wider environment” (p. 5). Furthermore, efficient use of water and c ommunity
engagement to help reduce impact on water quality and local communities are viewed as critical
aspects of best water management practice in extractive industries (Laurence et al., 2011). One
ongoing water risk related to the mining industry is the management of water in tailings and
tailings dams (Adiansyah et al., 2015; Kossoff et al., 2014). The volume and toxic quality of
wastes (comingled water, tailings and chemicals) released in tailings dam failures can create a
direct physical threat to downstream human and animal lives as well as ecosystems (Chapagain
and Tickner, 2012; Lambooy, 2011; Morgan et al., 2016).
This study explores the November 2015 Samarco tailings dam disaster in Brazil, the
largest in the world according to many criteria, and its impact on water risk management and
seeks to address the shortfall in knowledge of water risk in the context of a recent tailings dam
disaster in Brazil. The case involves mismanagement by Samarco Mineração S.A (Samarco) with
the result being described as “the worst mining accident in Brazilian history” (Schoenberger,
2016, p. 127). Apart from the scale of the disaster other elements of the Samarco case which are
of particular interest include the size of the companies involved, and responses to intens e media
attention. Two of the largest mining companies in the world, BHP Billiton (hereafter BHP) and
Vale own the joint venture company, Samarco. In principle given the large international media
coverage and growth of social media since earlier tailings d isasters it might be expected that
these companies would have used the best water risk and transparency practices available. Thus,
the case offers an appropriate subject for study as it provides an exemplar with regard to what
might be expected from excellence in management. The case study also affords a suitable
starting point for other studies investigating water risk and tailings management. The ramifications
of the Samarco disaster are still unfolding and lead to the Research Question (RQ): What are the
implications of the Samarco disaster for the management of corporate water risk in the mining
industry?
Discussion
In summary, research raised by the Samarco disaster relates to understanding how the
companies could best build support in the face of cata strophic risks associated with water use
(Park et al., 2013). It would seem that the business cases alluded to in the sustainability reports
veered more towards the reactionary, reputational and responsible end of the spectrum whereas
collaboration is now being implemented to address the disaster after the event, but in a situation
where trust of communities has been sorely tested. Problems and potential risks of the Samarco
dam failure although well-known were not managed to minimize loss of life, loss of biodiversity,
loss of community livelihoods and amenities, as the post -failure actions reveal. High consequence
dam failures will continue to occur and lives will be lost as management continues to strive
towards recognition of water risk problems, adoptin g proactive strategies to minimize impacts of
failures, and learning from past experiences. A spectrum of different strategies is available
including: innovations leading to entire removal of water and hence water risks from the tailings

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process, thus avoiding the potential for spills; development of new processes to reduce the
volume of water used; the construction of better dams to contain waste water intermixed with
tailings; better cleaning of wastewater before it enters tailings dams; etc. For example, Masige
(2016) reveals a new dry iron ore processing technology being piloted in which no water is used
and where there is no need for tailing dams and the associated problems such as seepage, spills
and dam failures. Disasters such as Samarco could be the touchstone for mining companies to
reconsider the business they are in by converting from wet mining to dry mining with the new
mindset requiring deep ‘dewatering’ (Mohapatra and Kirpalani, 2017) and risk elimination. It is
now up to individual mining com panies to examine the different business cases for managing high
water risk consequence events such as catastrophic tailings dam failure. The case study shows
that further research into adoption of the different business cases would be useful as a way of
framing strategic management responses before and after disasters - at one end of the risk
reduction spectrum they might invest in new dry-tailings technology at the other end would be
business-as-usual and passing off risk downstream.
Conclusion
Water risk is of growing concern to companies throughout the world, especially in water
sensitive industries such as mining which rely on their operations for regular and plentiful
supplies. The Samarco tailings dam disaster in Brazil in 2015 provides an illustrati on of poor
water risk management in relation to the wastes from iron ore mining leading to the research
question: What are the implications of the Samarco disaster for the management of corporate
water risk in the mining industry?
Public information reported in annual Sustainability Reports indicated BHP to have
become a leader in water management, aware of water risks to the business, community and
environment and the need for careful tailings management. Nevertheless, the Samarco joint
venture iron ore mining operations failed to address water risks of tailings in a satisfactory
manner leading to the disaster for which considerable compensation and reparation are still being
sought by aggrieved parties.
At the most basic level companies involved in the Sa marco disaster appear to have no
specialized function to manage water risk in a holistic, integrated way. To avoid these problems in
future this is necessary. Based on the available published information in the case of Samarco
water risk appears as the res idual in managing tailings and product rather than as a mainstream
concern. Introduction of an integrated, specialized water risk function to consider the various
business cases outlined, with central oversight and amenable to local circumstances is one
possible way forward to become aware of and avoid future risks. Further research is needed to
assess the net advantages to the industry, society and the environment from such technologies
and the different business strategies. Nonetheless, given the time hor izon and cost associated
with mining infrastructure it is unlikely this approach will replace ‘business as usual’ any time in
the immediate future.
The paper is not without limitations. The analysis presented is limited to data which is
publicly available via company and government reports and the mainstream media. It is possible
information disclosed in corporate reports might be biased towards a management perspective of
issues arising from the disaster. Nevertheless, sustainability reports do provide cu rrency in
relation to perceptions of management responses to the disaster as well as information about
actions taken to rehabilitate and to avoid future occurrences.

Available in: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652618300532 . >. Access in: 25 mar.2019. [Adapted].

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Question 1
Write about the objective of this research and identify the research problem.

Espaço para Resposta

Question 2
Write about the factors presented by the authors that are responsible for the threat to quality
water supply and the best practice of water management in mining industry.
Espaço para Resposta

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Question 3
Explain how, according to the authors, the Samarco disaster can change the mindset of mining
companies.
Espaço para Resposta

Question 4
Present the proactive strategies the authors outline to reduce the impact of dam failures.
Espaço para Resposta

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Question 5
Explain the reasons why, according to this study, the Samarco disaster is an example of poor
water risk management.
Espaço para Resposta

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