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7th International Conference on Recent Advances in Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics

13-16 JulyDAM
ICRAGEE2020, 334, v3: ’A CASE STUDY OF LAS PALMAS TAILING 2020, IISc Bangalore,’India 1
FAILURE

A CASE STUDY OF LAS PALMAS TAILING DAM FAILURE

Aswathi T S
Ravi S Jakka
Department of Earthquake Engineering, IIT Roorkee, Roorkee– 247667
E-mail: as@eq.iitr.ac.in; rsjakka@gmail.com;
Dr. David Frost
School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 790 Atlantic Drive, Atlanta
GA 30332, USA.
E-mail: david.frost@ce.gatech.edu;
Keywords: Tailings dam; Earthquake; Liquefaction; Slope stability

Abstract
In the past, during earthquakes tailing dams have been more susceptible to seismic liquefaction. Even in the
absence of sufficient pore water pressure to trigger liquefaction, the dynamic stresses (seismic inertial forces)
have still resulted in slope instabilities, thus significantly compromising the structural integrity and
operational stability of a tailings dam. In this study, possible failure mechanisms and dynamic behavior of
the Las Palmas tailing dam, which failed following the 2010 Maule Chile Earthquake, have been examined.
A numerical simulation of the dam is carried out, using GeoStudio package, to assess the condition of the
dam during this seismic event. For this pseudo static analysis is carried out. Strong ground motion of the
2010 Maule Chile earthquake recorded at three of the stations near the dam site was used as input since the
there is no record available at the tailings dam site. Slope stability analyses were performed to understand the
possible failure mechanism. Mechanical behavior of the dam material for slope stability assessment was
described using the Mohr–Coulomb failure criterion. Furthermore, a comparison between the simulation
results and existing facts is also discussed.
1. Introduction
2 ICRAGEE2020, 334, v3: ’A CASE STUDY OF LAS PALMAS TAILING DAM FAILURE ’
Tailings are a by-product from the mining industry when the minerals are extracted from the ore.
The particle size of tailings may vary between medium sand to silt and clay size. Tailings slurries
are normally transported to the disposal area by a pipeline. The slurries can be distributed by
different techniques such as sub aerial discharge (with spigots), sub aqueous discharge (slurry is
injected below the water surface) and thickened discharge (slurry with low water content) (Jewell,
1998). The coarse particles of tailings (i.e. sand) settle close to the point of discharge, and the fine
particles (i.e. silt and clay, generally termed as slimes) run down the beach into the pond and settle
there (Vick, 1990). Tailings are produced in huge quantities annually, and may contain some toxic
chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Therefore, it is necessary to store tailings in an
environmentally safe and economical way. Tailings are generally stored in surface impoundments,
which commonly consist of raised embankments (Vick, 1990). The raised embankments are
generally constructed with either of the following raising methods: upstream, downstream, or centre
line (Vick, 1990).
In a study by Jakka et al., dynamical stability of upstream and downstream tailings dams, built with
coarse or fine ash dyke were evaluated by Quake/w and Slope/W. This study reported that
downstream tailings dams are generally more stable than upstream ones. They also found out that
almost the entire area of impoundment and dykes undergo liquefaction under strong earthquakes
The height and storage capacity of tailing dams have increased continuously during the past decades
to meet the growing mine exploitation demand, which inevitably leads to the increase in the risk of
tailing dam failure (Klohn 1997; Davis 2002; Psarropoulos and Tsompanakis 2008; Rico et al.
2008; Azam and Li 2010; Ferdosi et al. 2015). In fact, the main concern with such tailing dams is
the stability during the mining operation and after tailing reservoir closure .Azam and Li (2010)
reported a total of 198 tailing dam failure events before the year 2000 and 20 failure events from
2000 to 2010. Eleven other failure events were reported from 2010 to 2015 [WISE Uranium Project
(WISE 2015)]. According to these statistical results, the rate of failure of tailing dams was
estimated to be 1.2%, which was more than two orders of magnitude higher than the failure rate of
conventional water retention dams, which was reported to be about 0.01% (ICOLD 2001; Azam and
Li 2010). The high failure rate of tailing dams has led to an increasing awareness of the need for
enhanced safety in the design and operation of tailing dams, which is highly dependent on the static
and cyclic characteristics of the tailings used for the construction of tailing dams, as well as the
geological and hydrogeological conditions of the disposal site.
The 27 February 2010 Maule, Chile, earthquake is the seismic event that resulted in the failure for
this case history. The sixth largest recorded earthquake since 1900, this event occurred at 3:34 am
local time with a moment magnitude of 8.8 and was centered off the coast of Bio Bio, Chile. The
hypocenter was located at an approximate depth of 35 km (21.7 miles), 95 km (60 miles) off the
coast, and 335 km (210 miles) southwest of the capital of Santiago.
2. Methodology
The FEM model is made with respect to the longitudinal cross section of Las Palmas Tailings dam.
The 2010 chile earthquake motion recorded at Currico, Talca and Hualane station (Fig. 1) are taken
for the study. The time histries corresponding to Currico, Talca and Hualane station are shown in
Fig. 2. For doing the analysis the following parameters are taken as shown in the Table 1 below.
ICRAGEE2020, 334, v3: ’A CASE STUDY OF LAS PALMAS TAILING DAM FAILURE ’ 3

Fig.1 Las Palmas Tailings dam along with Currico, Talca and Hualane station.

Fig.2 Time history records at Curico, Hualane and Talca stations .

Table 1 Stations and their corresponding PGA and values

Station PGA ( )
Curico 461.07 0.47
Hualane 382.59 0.39
Talca 470.88 0.48
The material properties are taken from the laboratory tests conducted at site and given in PEER
(2019). Table gives the material properties used for the analysis. The water table is appropriately
assumed from the SPT data presented in PEER (2019) article.
3. Results and Discussion
Initially the static slope stability is analyzed and then the seismic slope stability is carried out using
pseudo static methods. For the seismic analysis the pseudo static analysis has been carried out for
the motions which are recorded at three nearby stations to the tailings dam. This was done as there
were no strong motion record recorded in the site. The horizontal seismic coefficients are only
considered as the effect of vertical seismic coefficients are very less. Table gives the PGA and
horizontal seismic coefficients of the three stations. For Fig it can be said that the tailings dam was
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stable as it had a FoS of 2.325 and 1.472 In the middle and downstream slopes. From the pseudo
static analysis it is seen that the stability has decreased. The slope stability of middle slope is more
in the case of both the static as well as pseudo static case and static when compared to the
downstream slope. This indicates that the downstream slope failed first and then the middle slope
under the earthquake

Fig.3 The static slope analysis of Las Palmas tailings dam before earthquake.

Fig.4 The Pseudo static FoS of downstream slope corresponding to horizontal seismic coefficients of
0.47, 0.39 and 0.48
ICRAGEE2020, 334, v3: ’A CASE STUDY OF LAS PALMAS TAILING DAM FAILURE ’ 5

Fig.5 The Pseudo static FoS of slope corresponding to horizontal seismic coefficients of 0.47, 0.39 and
0.48
.
4. Conclusions
From this study, although the pseudo static analysis gives an approximate result the downstream
slope was more unstable. Upon the failure of the slope the contained tailings flowed down.
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