Busting dust in the Hunter

Environmental management within the mining industry is continually evolving, but it has become more difficult.

Regulators are imposing increasingly strict conditions, and mine operators have had to respond with more innovative and technologically advanced systems to meet these demands, which are now considered standard within the mining industry.

This is a major issue in the Hunter Valley where communities are in close contact with mines and living within the shadow of an active mine is simply a part of life.

However many in the community have pushed back against operations, demanding stricter operation guidelines and fighting against the expansion of many of the region’s coal mines.

One particular requirement is for the continuous environmental monitoring of factors such as noise and dust which goes a long way towards managing environmental impacts and consequently improves the quality of life for communities surrounding mine sites.

Recently the NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker introduced new dust Pollution Reduction Programs for the Hunter Valley.

Mining operations are using research funded by the Australian Coal Association Research Program and conducting trials at a range of sites to look for better ways to manage dust on haul roads and from overburden.

NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said the dust Pollution Reduction Programs represent an important partnership between the mining industry and the NSW Government to tackle the issue of air quality.

“NSW Mining has been very active in monitoring and mitigating potential dust pollution from mining operations. The industry is pleased to stand by the NSW Government in its efforts to address this challenge,” he said.

Galilee added the industry has been working with the Environment Protection Authority as part of their Dust Stop Program, which started at the end of 2010.

“Last year all coal mining operations in NSW completed best practice reviews of their sites to determine where there is still room for improvement of dust management techniques,” he said.

Mine sites typically manage dust emission through a combination of mine planning, reducing disturbed areas, minimising road haul distances and traffic, use of enclosed conveyors and carrying out continuous rehabilitation.

They also use techniques like water sprays on stockpiles and dust watering carts on unpaved roads. Extensive monitoring programs at every mining operation measure adherence to air quality standards and recognises areas for improvements in dust management.

With this in mind Novecom has developed a partnership with one Hunter Valley mine to work through the challenge of better understanding and controlling these impacts.

What resulted was a transformation of how noise and water levels were monitored and an understanding of the continuous operating nature of mining has been developed.

The brainchild of the partnership is SentineX, a monitoring, data acquisition and reporting platform which operates remotely and provides advanced capabilities for continuous monitoring of environmental conditions with minimal human intervention.

SentineX allows users to manage the environmental impacts of operations and to respond quickly to issues in real time.

Used predominately by environmental managers it provides access to environmental impact data via a dedicated web application and automatically summarises data into preformatted reports, logs and graphs.

The system is also geared up to send critical SMS alerts if certain parameters are at risk of being overstepped.

SentineX also monitors dust, weather, water and odours such as higher than average levels of methane gas or blast fumes, and can be integrated with any data logging or sensing device.

By understanding the true impact of mining activities a number of miners across the Hunter, central west and New England coal fields are using the system and achieving improved business outcomes.

Mine operators have been the main drivers behind the development of the SentineX technology.