The volume of tailings release due to dam failure has been trending upwards since the 1970s, with quantities of material released reaching an average of over three million cubic meters per failure since 2010.
Although the total number of dam failures has fallen, the scale of modern mine sites means the potential impact of a failure has increased.
Consequently, the need for monitoring of tailings storage facilities has become more important to prevent the following:
- downstream loss of life,
- ecological disaster, and
- operational disruption.
Monitoring plans are invariably required by mining regulators as part of their licence to operate, and environmental bonds are sized according to a mine’s monitoring system.
Monitoring processes have varied from manually measuring a dam wall position, the installation of downhole instrumentation to measuring pore pressures or the monitoring of crack structures.
Typically, these activities are periodically undertaken with manual techniques that require personnel to be in the field, increasing the risk of fatigue or injury.