'Transformation' in the air at Yale: Electric vehicle market, carbon neutral plans, environmental safeguards are part of Sudbury miner's present and future plans.


The thrust of Dino Otranto's presentation was on the transformational challenges ahead for base metal mining giant Vale to create a business that's sustainable in the Sudbury basin for generations to come.

But the opening image he flashed to a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce lunchtime crowd on Feb. 11 was of the Brumadinho tailings dam break at Vale's Corrego do Feijao iron ore mine in Brazil on Jan. 25,2019. It was the company's second major dam breach in that country in four years.

The man-made environmental catastrophe at Brumadinho produced a toxic mudflow that swept away the company's offices, and houses, farms and roads in a nearby village, and contaminated a major river system.

"On this day, 270 lives, most of which worked for us, were lost," said Otranto, Vale's chief operating officer in charge of mining, smelter and refinery operations in the northern hemisphere.

It was the first time a dam break of that scale was videotaped live, and he encouraged everyone to go online and watch it.

The tragedy created a rift between Brazil's largest mining company and the local community that, he said, no amount of compensation can ever repair.

"It's shocking. It's a tragedy for our industry and it's one that we can no longer ignore."

Otranto then reminded his audience that they live in the "inundation zone" of one of the world's biggest tailings dams.

There's a billion tonnes of the same material sitting in this community.

Otranto assured them that Vale is working with government and various partners to ensure safeguards are firmly in place.

But the comfortable mindset, he said, has to change from thinking it can't happen here toward guaranteeing that it doesn't happen.

"Above all else, I'm obsessed with making this right."

There remain persistent hazards associated with deep underground mining, from seismic events to working with dangerous chemicals, all underscoring the need "to be absolutely on our game."

In Sudbury, Otranto said they've adopted an extensive defence model for preventative and mitigation controls for tailings dams with a dedicated staff to oversee its maintenance, coupled with a team of outside auditors, composed of some of the world's best experts, to evaluate Vale's work.

"We must have a new pact with society," said Otranto. "We have to repair the damage that we've done."

The German-born, Australian-accented Otranto was appointed COO in 2019 after many years working in operations for global metal producers like BHP...

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