Inmarsat leads change in tailings management

Managing tailings storage from mines has come a long way, especially during the past decade. Inmarsat’s tailings dam monitoring solution is at the forefront of this new way of management.

Before 1900, tailings waste was generally discharged into the nearest surface water course, which opened up huge environmental liabilities, as well as significant costs reversing the damage.

In addition to the costs to companies and the environment, discarding tailings waste into lakes, rivers and oceans contributed to negative public perception of the whole industry, so by the 1930s, this method of tailings disposal ended in the western world.

Fast forward to 2019 and tailings management has changed dramatically, thanks especially to technological advances for monitoring dams with data, something British telecommunications company Inmarsat is advancing in with its tailings dam monitoring solution.

Inmarsat’s global mining innovation director Joe Carr says this solution can be adapted to the customers’ needs, and as well as this convenience, it also improves safety for the workers monitoring the data.

“Our solution ensures mining companies and other key stakeholders are able to instantly see the status of key metrics such as pond elevation, piezometric pressures, inclinometer readings and weather conditions by displaying them in a cloud-based app,” Carr explains.

“This enables more responsive decision making, which enables companies to operate more efficiently and safely.”

Inmarsat’s solution allows its customers to remotely monitor and manage dam data by gathering information from various instruments via edge connectivity, then relaying that data via its L-band satellite network to a cloud dashboard, where users can view the data.

“The dashboard has powerful functionality for audits and alerts, ensuring transparent, consistent tailings storage facility governance and monitoring practices,” Carr says.

“We then support the solution on an ongoing basis as a managed service, ensuring it is operating optimally and adapting it as our customers’ needs change.

“Thanks to our global satellite network, our solution can be implemented anywhere there is a mine across the world on both open and closed mine sites.”

This is particularly advantageous for mining companies with operations all over the world, as they only need one connectivity partner, with Inmarsat able to support them wherever they are.

Carr says the reaction to data-based tailings management solutions has been positive so far and he believes it is something the industry will continue to embrace due to its versatility to be used on different sites.

“The industry is definitely beginning to get behind the idea that we need a unified approach to tailings monitoring and interest in the technology that underpins it,” he says.

“Approaches to monitoring tailings storage facilities vary wildly around the world and even between different mine sites owned by the same company.

“What we are providing is a real-time monitoring solution that provides transparency and supports sensible, consistent international standards around how monitoring and auditing should be carried out.”

Carr says approaches to monitoring tailings storage around the world are quite inconsistent, which is something data-optimised solutions can counter.

“Inspections could happen on a daily basis, or not at all, they could be visual, could involve instruments, could be carried out manually or could be through connected instruments,” Carr explains.

“Audits carried out by third parties such as auditors and government regulators, where more in-depth inspections take place, often happen at set intervals, much less frequently, sometimes months apart.

“In other words, monitoring approaches are inconsistent and in many cases not fit for purpose and as an industry we need to do more.”

Inmarsat has collaborated with Australian Internet of Things (IoT) and geospatial solutions specialist GlassTerra, to combine the two companies’ technological capabilities, notably, the latter’s light detection and ranging (LIDAR) solution.

GlassTerra’s LIDAR sensors allow real-time embankment monitoring, building three-dimensional pictures of the dam, allowing users to detect soil slippage or movement.

“GlassTerra’s LIDAR solution is really interesting, and we will be looking at ways it can work in conjunction with our tailings dam monitoring solution,” Carr says.

“It works through the use of scanning devices, which detect small movements on slopes or embankments, in real-time, which may indicate underlying geotechnical issues that could lead to failure.

“Inmarsat is open to collaboration and the development of functionality that will help miners manage their tailings facilities better.

“The more insights miners have access to, the better they will be able to manage their tailings facilities.”

As mining works hard towards zero harm, both to workers and environmental companies work in, Carr believes working collaboratively across the mining industry is essential in relation to improving approaches to tailings storage management.

“We want to work with organisations from across the mining industry to understand what they need and develop our proposition in-step with their changing priorities.

“We want to work with mining organisations to understand what they need and develop our proposition in-step with their changing priorities.

“Together, we will create a safer, more sustainable and more efficient approach to tailings facility management, furthering the industry’s zero harm goals.”

This article also appears in the December edition of Australian Mining.

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