Traditionally, tailings dam monitoring has been a tedious, manual process with mixed results. Mine operators bore holes along the dam surrounding the tailings storage facility (TSF), then periodically visited those spots to take measurements.
More recently, IoT sensors including piezometers and inclinometers have been added to improve the monitoring process. However, the readings from these devices only measure at the point of contact and do not provide the full picture of what is happening at the tailings storage facility.
But you can’t correctly assess dam performance by occasionally monitoring or only measuring a small section of the dam. Consequently, tailings dam accidents can still happen with devastating impacts. And as the industry searches for ways to reduce the environmental impacts of mining, preventing accidents at existing tailings dams is a significant — and challenging — proposition.
Continually improving tailings dam monitoring processes is key. Resources like drone data integration, alongside the latest IoT devices, are the best way to keep dams safe and mine sites sustainable.
Mining Companies are Prioritizing Sustainability
The push to make mining more sustainable stems from multiple sources. Investors have started asking mine operators for tailings dam safety data, which they will use to funnel future investments toward operators with consistent track records. NGOs and environmental organizations are also calling attention to issues around mining and environmental sustainability. One organization, Grid-Arendal, built the first publicly accessible tailings dam information database.
A tailings dam failure in Brazil that cost human lives, environmental damage, and billions of dollars was at the forefront of the news recently. As mining companies are prioritizing sustainability, improved tailings dam monitoring is a great place to start.
Can Tailings Storage Facilities Be Safer and Reduce Risk of Environmental Damage?
Mine operators understand the issues with traditional tailings dam monitoring. Until recently, however, there wasn't an alternative. New technology makes extremely precise dam monitoring possible.
Here are two ways to reduce the environmental impacts of mining through improved monitoring alone:
Extensive Data Analysis - Tools like IoT mining solutions placed along a tailings dam can collect real-time key performance indicators 24/7/365 and transmit them to decision-makers.
At the same time, high accuracy RTK-enabled drones can take measurements and visuals of the dam from above and generate high accuracy 3D data of the site in the process.
Collectively, these findings provide greater insight into tailings dam performance than operators have ever had before. And they can use it to spot red flags early and prevent more accidents by comparing the data to plan or previous data captured.
Minimize Carbon Footprint - Using drones and sensors to capture tailings dam data creates a much smaller environmental footprint than continuously sending a technician in a truck in and around the tailings storage facility
Emissions from those trucks accumulate quickly when they’re visiting numerous sites along the dam on a recurring basis. Technology can cover a much larger area in less time so technicians rarely have to venture on-site — improving safety and sustainability at the same time.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Mining and environmental sustainability aren’t mutually exclusive any longer thanks to technology now available. There’s never been a more compelling — or urgent — time to try something different.