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Tailings Management

Safe and efficient tailings management is key to Yamana’s operations. There has been a considerable increase in the scrutiny of tailings management practices in the aftermath of the well-publicized tailings failures in recent years. As a result, there have been initiatives to improve tailings management practices.

Yamana has developed a strong tailings management framework, which aims to minimize risks to the environment and our host communities. Our strategy includes incorporating evolving international best practice into our systems and processes, quality designs, clear accountability and responsibility, sound dam safety practices, comprehensive risk management, and effective emergency response and preparedness systems.

In addition, Yamana recognizes there is an increased demand for disclosure in recent years by investors, governments, communities and the general public. Yamana is continuously looking for opportunities to improve our tailings management performance, led by our corporate offices and supported in the field by qualified professionals.

What Are Tailings?

Our business involves recovering gold and silver from rock. Rock with sufficient amounts of gold and/or silver has economic value – such rock is called “ore”. We must process the ore to recover the gold and/or silver – these processes are called “mineral processing” and generally involve crushing and grinding the ore into small, sand-sized particles of rock and treating that with other chemicals until the gold and/or silver is freed from the other parts of the ore that do not have economic value. The sand-sized particles of rock left over from mineral processing are waste called “tailings”.

The chemical and physical characteristics of tailings vary depending on the nature of the ore and, to some extent, on the mineral processing processes used to liberate the gold and/or silver. Discharged tailings have no current economic value – these naturally occurring materials must be disposed of safely for the long term so that they do not have impacts on people and the environment. Tailings are generally stored in facilities (tailings storage facilities or TSF) that are engineered, constructed, operated and decommissioned (closed) to high standards to ensure they are stable and do not pose a threat to human health, safety and the environment. In most cases, tailings are transported as a slurry – a combination of liquid water and tailings solids – in pipelines to the TSF. Some common methods to store and transport tailings include:

  • Filtered tailings (commonly known as dry stacking): Tailings slurry is dewatered to a cake consistency (over 80% solids) using filters and transported to a nearby stacking area. Filtered tailings do not require water-retaining dams, as no free water accumulates in this type of structure.
  • Tailings dams: Tailings slurry is discharged behind engineered dams designed to contain the material. Solids are allowed to settle in the impoundment while process water is typically reclaimed.
  • Thickened tailings and paste: Thickened tailings consist of a slurry with a higher solids content that is deposited behind smaller engineered dams or combined with cement to be backfilled into non-operating underground mines.
  • Co-disposal: Mixing or otherwise combining tailings with waste rock in impoundments, non-operating open pits or surface stacks.
  • In-pit deposition: Deposition of tailings in open pits that are no longer operational.

Yamana’s active TSFs include engineered tailings dams, dykes for containment of thickened slurry tailings and paste, and filtered tailings.

Several factors are considered in selecting an appropriate and safe design for a TSF, including the type of tailings it will hold, the materials used in its construction, its location, the geology of supporting and surrounding land, climatic and seismic conditions, as well as social and regulatory considerations. There are a range of evolving best practice guidelines from third-party organizations that specify the design, construction and operational aspects – we incorporate these into everything we do regarding TSFs to ensure they are stable and do not impact people or the environment.

Commitments and Performance Objectives

We seek to manage our tailings management infrastructure in a safe and efficient manner that promotes trust with host communities, protects the safety of people, the natural environment and our employees, ensures the future of our mining operations, and secures our investors’ returns.

More specifically, Yamana’s performance objectives on tailings management include the following components:

  • Protecting human health and our natural environment.
  • Maintaining stable facilities under all environmental conditions throughout the life of mine of the facility.
  • Zero discharge of untreated contact water to the environment.
  • Complying with all regulatory requirements and commitments.
  • Engaging qualified personnel and resources.
  • Operating facilities in an efficient manner, implementing Best Available Practices (BAP)/Best Available Technology (BAT), minimizing environmental footprint and allowing for water reuse.
  • Continuously improving our operations and systems.
  • Allowing for proper closure and reclamation of all tailings management infrastructure.
  • Being recognized as a socially responsible company.

Disclosure of Information

Disclosure of information on our tailings operations is key to meeting our commitments towards safe and efficient tailings management systems. In addition to satisfying our internal standards for transparency and best practices, Yamana is continuously evaluating and supporting efforts led by other institutions and governments to improve disclosure around tailings management in the mining industry.

As an example, on April 5, 2019, the Investor Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative requested to extractive companies to provide greater disclosure on the management of their tailings storage facilities, and asked each company to post this information on their respective websites. Companies were also requested for disclosures to be signed by their CEO or Board Chairs. At Yamana, we view safe and efficient tailings management to be critical to our business success and a reflection of our socially, environmentally and financially responsible business. We fully support the Investor Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative.

Please refer to the signed letter from our CEO offering a detailed overview of our tailings management system, along with the attached spreadsheet that includes all disclosure data requested by the Investor Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative. We hope this information is of value to all of our stakeholders.


Yamana’s tailings management framework builds on evolving international best practice and governs all tailings management activities throughout the life cycle of our tailings operations. Our tailings strategy leverages this framework to ensure that all of our TSFs and associated water management facilities conform to the highest standards on dam safety and tailings management. Yamana’s tailings strategy recognizes the importance of timely application of the most up-to-date concepts on dam safety and tailings management, including, but not exclusively limited to, guidance provided by the Canadian Dam Association (CDA), the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and the International Committee of Large Dams (ICOLD). In addition, Yamana has committed to incorporating the requirements of the Global Tailings Standards (GTS) published in August 2020.

The key aspects of Yamana’s tailings management include:

  • Recognizing tailings management as a critical business risk, allowing for adequate and timely resource allocation in all our operations;
  • Developing and implementing a best-in-class tailings management system;
  • Having a designated accountable officer, Director, Tailings and responsible management and staff at the site level for all tailings operations;
  • Regularly completing third-party expert reviews and assessments;
  • Implementing designs prepared by registered engineers that incorporate best available technologies, including paste, dry stacking, downstream construction methods and liner installation;
  • Effectively communicating at the corporate level, including completing monthly tailings reports by site and corporate. Both the accountable officer and Director, Tailings have direct access to the Company’s CEO and the Executive Chairman;
  • Regularly monitoring and reporting performance indicators; and
  • Conducting risk assessment and management, including reporting.

In addition, Yamana has a strong corporate culture supportive of continuous improvement and efficient risk management.

Accountability and Responsibility

The Senior Vice President of Health, Safety and Sustainable Development is designated as the Accountable Executive for all of Yamana’s tailings facilities. Final accountability on tailings management remains with the Chair of the Board and CEO of the Company. As such, senior executives, as well as the Board of Directors, are frequently engaged in conversations on tailings management. At an operational level, each site has a designated responsible engineer in charge of the tailings management activities at their site. The responsible engineer reports to the general manager or plant manager at every site and is supported by a team of professionals and technicians, including operational staff and HSEC personnel.

In addition, Yamana has a dedicated Director, Tailings whose sole responsibility is the oversight and governance of our tailings management systems as well as to provide technical support to sites. The Director, Tailings prepares monthly reports to inform the Accountable Executive, members of the Senior Executive Group, the Chief Executive Officer, the Executive Chairman and the Board on key risks and controls for each TSF. The content of these reports is discussed with each specific site management team as well. Refer to the section on Risk Communication for more details.

Yamana also uses external specialists that are registered in their corresponding jurisdictions to support with design, construction and monitoring of our tailings facilities. In addition to the design engineer and/or the Engineer of Record (EoR), third-party inspections are completed regularly by subject experts and their reports are submitted to Yamana’s Accountable Executive and copied to the Director, Tailings.

Refer to the figure below for details on the Company’s organizational structure with the Accountable Executive, Responsible Engineer and Engineer of Record roles clearly identified.

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Risk Management and Risk Communication

Timely risk identification, assessment and communication are critical parts of Yamana’s tailings management system. All of our operations are encouraged and supported with their risk assessment process, focusing on proper risk identification, timely development and implementation of mitigation strategies, and reducing the likelihood of occurrence and potential negative impacts to the minimum levels possible. Monthly reports are generated by the Director, Tailings and reviewed with the Company’s senior executive management. These reports provide the opportunity to update executives on tailings stability and operations status for all facilities and include updates on key identified risks, critical controls and mitigation actions being implemented. Similarly, monthly internal reports and external audit reports are also prepared by sites and presented to the Director, Tailings, with key findings being shared with senior management.

In accordance with the tailings management framework, each of our sites have developed a set of tailings disposal and surveillance procedures and protocols, including measurable performance indicators that govern the daily management of the tailings facility operations. These indicators are the cornerstone of each site’s integrated tailings facility management plan, providing a clear performance monitoring framework.

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Compliance and Reporting

Environmental and regulatory compliance is a key component of Yamana’s tailings management system. Yamana recognizes the importance of proper and timely compliance with all regulatory requirements for tailings management in each of the jurisdictions where we operate. Proper environmental and regulatory compliance with local and government regulatory agencies allows for our mining operations to continue to operate successfully. As such, all our mines have developed processes to promote and verify that our operations are compliant with local and government regulations on tailings management at all times. This includes having quality designs, construction and operational procedures in addition to monitoring environmental and geotechnical performance closely. In addition to the operational team and management, Yamana has legal and environmental teams in each of our operations to support the mine with compliance monitoring, collecting information, and reporting to the local regulatory bodies and government agencies on a regular basis.

Quality Designs, Construction and OMS Practices

Yamana works with recognized industry consultants and a team of qualified professionals to develop quality designs for all of our tailings facilities and allow for safe and efficient tailings management at all times. All of Yamana’s tailings facilities’ designs consider best available practices and technologies for tailings management, including filtered tailings, paste/high-density slurry, installation of double-liner and adequate water management. Tailings facilities’ designs at Yamana undergo regular review processes, performed by internal and third-party local and international experts. Where applicable, our designs take the criteria set by the Canadian Dam Association (CDA) and the International Committee of Large Dams (ICOLD) as our minimum design criteria for our tailings facilities. Information and recommendations provided in other international guidance documents are also carefully assessed when designing for tailings facilities.

Once designs are completed, Yamana follows best practices during construction of our tailings facilities and follows accepted quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) procedures to verify construction activities are meeting design and construction specifications set by the design engineer for the facility. QA/QC activities typically require completion of field verification and inspections of the works, taking samples of construction materials and performing laboratory testing. This work is mostly performed by third-party engineers and laboratories. Collection of this information, in addition to regular surveys and photographic records for the tailings area, allows for preparation of construction records for the site, including “as-built” reports and drawings for each phase of the TSF area (from initial construction to closure of the facility).

Operations, Maintenance and Surveillance (OMS) manuals and standard operating procedures are in place for all of Yamana’s tailings facilities. OMS manuals provide key operational, maintenance and surveillance procedures and are updated regularly to reflect the facility conditions. Yamana is aligning our OMS manuals with the latest guidance provided by the Mining Association of Canada (MAC).

Assurance Process and Third-Party Audits

Yamana is continuously working towards improvement of our tailings systems and facility performance. As stated in the MAC Tailings Management Guide, regular completion of third-party reviews is an effective method of reducing risks and improving overall tailings facilities’ performance, from design through construction, to operations and closure.

Yamana’s assurance process for our tailings facilities includes completion of regular reviews and inspections by internal staff; annual/biannual inspections by the Engineer of Record or Design Engineer; and third-party expert reviews and audits, including completion of Dam Safety Reviews (DSRs) as recommended by CDA and assessment of the site management systems following MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Protocol for tailings management.

Yamana will implement an independent review board to further improve our current assurance process to align with evolving international best practice as represented by the MAC Tailings Guide and the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

An integral component of our tailings and waste management strategy and risk management is emergency preparedness. A component of this preparation is the emergency response plans (ERPs) that have been developed for all of our tailings facilities. The ERP involves all levels of the organization, as well as host community stakeholders. As part of Yamana’s emergency response preparation, emergency simulations are performed regularly to ensure that our employees are properly trained on emergency procedures, local authorities and emergency response services understand their roles in the event of emergency, and that communities feel confident in the level of planning that has been done to keep people and host communities safe.

More specifically, ERPs are developed to prepare our employees and host communities to deal with unlikely worst-case scenarios. At Yamana, development of ERPs for each of our sites involves four main steps:

  1. Documentation preparation, which includes completion of a dam breach and inundation studies, and development of communication plans and a downstream survey.
  2. Stakeholder mapping and internal training, where employees are trained on risk prevention and what to do in the event that an incident takes place, including notifying communities, emergency services and resource management agencies.
  3. External training on the procedures required if an emergency were to occur.
  4. Simulation process involving community participation and local government bodies.

Facilities Overview

Currently, Yamana operates the following active tailings facilities: