Suncor mature fine tailings

Canadian Mining Association Adopts New Tailings Recommendations

The Canadian Mining Association has agreed to implement a new set of guidelines aimed at improving tailings storage practices. In the wake of the Mount Polley incident, Canada’s principal mining industry group has agreed to adopt a raft of new waste management policies.

Tailings have been in the news recently following several major spillages, and the industry is responding by tightening up codes of practice to ensure better waste management becomes the norm.

Following Mount Polley, when mining waste was accidentally released into Canadian lakes and rivers, an independent review was commissioned by the B.C. government. The Chief Inspector of Mines weighed in, finding that geological features under the dam including a layer of clay weren’t taken into account at the design stage. The CIM found that while mining operations there didn’t break any laws or regulations, they didn’t meet best practices either. In response, the Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennet announced in 2014, the government planned new regulations that would make British Columbia a world leader in tailings storage.

The government-commissioned review, completed in January last year, recommended that all mining companies operating in the region should abide by the MAC’s code of best practice: in response the MAC organized its own independent review, seeking to improve that code.

The raft of 29 recommendations will extend tailings policy in both directions – up and in, to the heart of mining companies with tailings ponds or storage, and out to the communities nearby. MAC chief executive officer Pierre Gratton said in December, ‘Everyone of these recommendations, if it’s going to reduce the incidents, we want to implement as quickly as possible.’

Communities who may be affected by tailings incidents are to be involved in accident response planning and training, reflecting increased recognition within the industry of local communities as stakeholders in the industry. Meanwhile responsibility for signing off on tailings measures will be taken into the C-suite, effectively making the core of the company responsible for tailings.

Other measures recommended by the government review include the phased introduction of Best available Technologies, an increased role for tailings review boards and expanded corporate design commitments.

Satellite Surveying for Improved Tailings Monitoring

PhotoSat has extensive experience mapping tailings areas to help improve monitoring and management. We have been providing 20cm accuracy satellite surveying for Suncor’s Millennium Mine about twice a month since 2013, after they compared our mapping to alternative methods. The engineers at Suncor use our elevation data (DEM) for most of the mapping and surveying of their Tailings Reduction Operation. They also use it to help reduce their Mature Fine Tailings inventory.

Satellite ortho photo and PhotoSat elevation image of Suncor’s mature fine tailings

Suncor mature fine tailings

© DigitalGlobe 2014


In addition, Golder Associates uses our elevation models for satellite monitoring of the Penasquito Tailings Storage Facility. They presented their results at the Tailings & Mine Waste Conference in Vancouver in October 2015.

To find out more about using our high accuracy elevation models for tailings operations, contact us at, or 604-681-9770.


Accuracy target

ASPRS Releases New Accuracy Standards for Geospatial Data

The ASPRS has released new accuracy standards for geospatial data, taking into account the techniques and accuracies of modern mapping tools.

In a press release, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) observed that the previous standard was unchanged since 1947 when totally different surveying techniques were in use.

Accuracy target ‘The new ASPRS standards,’ the organization said, ‘address recent innovations  in digital imaging and non-imaging sensors, airborne GPS, inertial measurement units (IMU) and aerial triangulation (AT) technologies.’

An attempt had previously been made to update standards with the 1990 ASPRS standards, but while they were an improvement, ‘they did not do well in representing the capabilities of LiDAR, orthoimagery, digital mapping cameras or other current technologies in widespread use today.’

The new ASPRS standard is designed to be technology-, scale- and contour interval-agnostic and ‘address higher levels of accuracies achievable by the latest technologies (such as unmanned aerial systems and LiDAR mobile mapping systems)…Finally, the new standards provide cross references to older standards, as well as detailed guidance for a wide range of potential applications.’

At PhotoSat we’re happy to adopt these new standards but where exactly do we fit in? We’re not photogrammetrists, nor LiDAR processors. In fact, we have invented a new technology for processing stereo satellite photos! Regardless, we provide satellite elevation mapping with vertical accuracies better than 30cm RMSE in areas of sparse vegetation. And we’ve published many proof of accuracy studies to prove it.

The PDF of the ASPRS standards is available here.

Contact us at or 604-681-9770 if you have any questions.

50cm satellite ortho photo

Alberta to Ease Tailings Regulations

Alberta has announced that it is easing up on tailings regulations, as several mine operators in the region are asking for reduced regulatory pressure. It’s a move away from the regulations, known as Directive 74, that have governed Alberta oil sands for the last six years.

Directive 74 required mining companies to ‘reduce tailings and provide target dates for closure and reclamation of ponds,’ and to report to the industry watchdog on their progress. But the industry has failed to meet the requirements of the legislation – and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) watchdog stopped enforcing them in 2013, the last time a company was punished for not hitting its cleanup targets.

Parker Hogan, a spokesman for Kyle Fawcett, the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister, said, ‘What we have heard is that despite the best efforts and significant investments, companies have had significant challenges to achieve the requirements that are in Directive 74.’

Since then, the ERCB has been replaced by a new regulatory body, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), and Directive 74 has been replaced by the Tailings Management Framework (TMF), a new regulatory structure with different aims. (The new framework is accompanied by strict groundwater use rules.)

The key change has been to refocus efforts on growing industry sustainably rather than directly on reducing tailings ponds. The new regulations give industry more leeway in some areas, allowing them to slow the growth of tailings ponds rather than working to actually reduce them; but they also promise new restrictions in other areas.

Kyle Fawcett laid out in more detail the requirements of TMF:

  • limit the amount of tailings that can be accumulated,
  • push companies to invest in technology to reduce tailings
  • establish thresholds to identify when companies must act to prevent harm to the environment
  • require companies to post financial security to deal with potential remediation issues and
  • ensure tailings are treated and reclaimed throughout the life of the project and are ready to reclaim within 10 years of the end-of-mine-life of that project.

Hogan said, ‘this is a shift towards the management of tailings in a way that respects the needs to mobilize new technologies and harness innovation so we can manage this size and scale of environmental impacts to a point we can move away and into reclamation.’ Directive 74 may have been abandoned, but the long-term goals that informed it are still in place.

So what does that mean for mining in Alberta? Are things getting easier or tighter? Overall, the new regulations are mining-friendly. They’re designed to facilitate industry expansion without making unacceptable environmental sacrifices. And that means they’re more long-term, but also that there’s a missing piece of the puzzle: for TMF to come together, new technology that isn’t online yet will be needed. Kyle Fawcett points out: ‘Technology unlocked the oilsands. It will be key to finding the long-term, effective solutions to tailings ponds management.’

Some of that new technology, though, is in place. PhotoSat has extensive experience working with players in the oil sands sector: while oil sands companies seek to accelerate tailings reclamation, reduce the need to build more tailings ponds and reduce their inventories of mature fine tailings, they struggle to do it without accurate, up-to-date survey data. Scanning tailings areas with GPS or ground-based LiDAR comes with a host of problems, including team safety.

50cm resolution satellite ortho photo

50cm satellite ortho photo

© DigitalGlobe 2014


1m PhotoSat elevation image (accurate to better than 15cm in elevation)

1m PhotoSat elevation image

1m contours (accurate to better than 15cm in elevation)

1m contours


By comparison, PhotoSat’s unique satellite surveying technology, facilitated by software that builds on seismic data processing tools, produces highly accurate elevation data faster, with better definition of steep slopes and without subjecting survey crews to risky environments. It’s a process that’s used to safely survey Suncor’s TRO (Tailings Reduction Operation) in Alberta. PhotoSat has mapped their tailings site twice monthly since 2013, as well as producing automated toes and crests. Many oil sands and other types of mines have adopted PhotoSat mapping to improve tailings monitoring and measurement.

To learn more about our topographic processing system, or to find out how it could facilitate your resource project, contact us at or 1-604-681-9770.

Canadian oil industry

Canada’s Oil and Gas Provinces ‘Best In World’

Canada’s oil and gas provinces have been ranked among the best in the world for investment by the Fraser Institute’s global survey of petroleum executives. The survey ranks 156 jurisdictions as investment targets, based on the oil and gas reserves from each one and the input of oil and gas executives.

One of the major areas of concern for the survey is the attitude of each jurisdiction’s lawmakers toward oil and gas industries. This is expressed in terms of taxation rates, potentially costly regulatory obligations, uncertainty over environmental regulations and political stability, as well as secondary issues like concerns over the interpretation of regulations.

The survey ranked jurisdictions on policy alone, and found the best to be, in descending order: Oklahoma, Mississippi, Saskatchewan, Arkansas, Manitoba, Alabama, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota and Wyoming.

The worst? In ascending order: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iran, Russia (Eastern Siberia), Russia (Offshore Arctic), Iraq, Uzbekistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa), and Turkmenistan.

Canadian oil industry


Two Canadian provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, appear in the top ten on policy alone. But when reserves are factored in as well, Alberta tops the list in Canada, and comes in second worldwide. (Who pipped Alberta to the post? Texas.)

‘Alberta’s wealth of petroleum reserves continues to attract investment, which creates jobs for scores of Canadians,’ said the Fraser Institute’s Kenneth Green, senior director of the Institute’s Center for national Resources.1

The Fraser Institute divided jurisdictions into three classes, with large, medium and small reserves. To be included in the ‘large reserves’ list, a jurisdiction’s reserves had to total more than 1% of the total represented in the survey.

Among the small reserves group, Canada placed high too: Saskatchewan and Manitoba came in at 2 and 3, while British Columbia entered the medium reserves group at 19 out of 44.

On the other hand, Quebec presented the greatest barriers to oil and gas development in Canada, said the Fraser survey: ‘Quebec continues to sour petroleum investment by delaying authorization for development, to the detriment of many Quebecers who could be working in the resource industries,’ said Green.

The Fraser Institute used data from 710 respondents, representing 563 oil and gas companies.

Many Canadian oil and gas projects are using PhotoSat’s high accuracy digital terrain models to accelerate their engineering tasks. In particular, we have been applying this process for twice monthly surveying for the Alberta Oil Sands mines. This allows them to track volumetric changes in their pits, waste dumps, tailings areas and ore stockpiles. They are also finding the satellite mapping useful for a variety of other applications including verifying as-built locations of roads, power lines and other infrastructure.

The key to this has been high accuracy terrain mapping over large areas using high resolution satellites. For Suncor we provide better than 20cm accuracy and deliver the tailings and pit surveying within 5 days after each satellite pass. Suncor has given us permission to show the results of their pilot program where they compared the accuracy against airborne LiDAR, UAVs and ground surveying.

To learn about our revolutionary satellite elevation processing system, or to find out how it could facilitate your oil and gas project, contact us at or 1-604-681-9770.


1MarketWired, 2014

Brucejack mine

Brucejack mine gets the green light

Pretium Resources Inc received its final permits for its Brucejack mine in northwestern British Columbia. The company expects the mine to produce $456m in today’s prices of gold yearly over its lifetime. Frik Els of has more:

Brucejack mine

Pretium Resources Brucejack project in 2011


Shares in Pretium Resources Inc (TSE:PVG) enjoyed a nice bump on Friday after the company received final provincial and federal approval for its Brucejack mine in northwest British Columbia.

By the close of day the Vancouver-based company was trading at $6.53, up 4.5% on the Toronto Stock Exchange, down from a 7.5% advance shortly after the opening of trading.

A higher than usual 346,000 shares in the $865 million company changed hands on that day.

With all necessary federal approvals, a provincial environmental assessment certificate and Mines Act permit now in place, construction of the new Brucejack mine is expected to get underway in 2015, the BC mines ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Pretium pegs capital expenditure for the Brucejack underground operation located about 65 km northwest of Stewart at just less than $750 million with targeted commercial production in 2017. The company received an $81 million investment from China’s Zijin Mining in December for a stake just shy of 10%.

The gold and silver mine in the Valley of the Kings near the Alaskan border will create approximately 900 jobs during the two-year construction period and 500 jobs during an estimated 18-year operating life.

A feasibility study completed in June 2014 outlined proven and probable mineral reserves of 6.9 million ounces of gold (13.6 million tonnes grading 15.7 grams per tonne gold).

Average annual production of 504,000 ounces of gold over the first 8 years and 404,000 ounces of gold over the life of mine is expected with 2,700 tonnes milled every day.

Brucejack is the first mine greenlighted in BC since the failure of Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley tailings dam last summer.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines said Brucejack’s tailings will be stored underground in spent mine workings, and in the nearby lake, which contains no fish.

Brucejack is partly financed by Chinese investment and will be producing in just two years, if all goes to plan. Its greenlighting could be a good sign for mining in Canada as well as a boon for owners Pretium.