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 info@photosat.ca, or 604-681-9770.

 

Tailings dyke elevation image number 2.

Monitoring Tailings Dykes with Satellite Elevation Data

In both the oil sands and mining industries, the integrity of tailings dykes is extremely important. Recent tailings incidents demonstrate this. Mapping the tailings dykes and beaches can be challenging with hazardous conditions restricting access for ground surveyors. Using satellite-based elevation mapping allows for data to be collected remotely, with no risk for ground personnel and no permits needed. Regular topographic mapping during construction allows the design engineers to confirm that the dykes are being built to design specifications.

Currently PhotoSat regularly surveys the topography of tailings dykes for the Alberta oil sands mines to an accuracy of 15cm in elevation. In fact, we map the entire tailings systems for Suncor’s Millennium and Steepbank mines about every two weeks. These surveys are used by a wide range of engineers and planners at Suncor. They even did a presentation about their experience comparing different survey options and why they settled on PhotoSat’s technology as their main topographic survey method.

Tailings dyke elevation image

Elevation image of a tailings dyke, December. Red is high, blue is low.

Tailings dyke elevation image number 2.

Elevation image of the same tailings dyke 6 months later. Red is high, blue is low.

Unique Methods for Elevation Mapping

Satellites can collect imagery anywhere in the world, and with new high resolution satellites being launched regularly, there are more options and collection times keep getting faster. Also, PhotoSat has a unique, automatic system for processing stereo satellite imagery to extract the bare-earth elevation values. That’s right – we invented this process ourselves here in Vancouver, and continuously improve the system to get better and better accuracy results. Additional information about the technology we use can be found on the Technology page. And we test our system regularly by publishing accuracy studies that are available on our website here.

We also survey all parts of tailings projects beyond the dykes for a complete profile of a mine site tailings area, including the sand dumps, tailings beaches, and mature fine tailings. The advantage of satellites is that they can collect imagery over a large area in one shot, providing an instantaneous snapshot of the entire tailings beach waterline, the geometry of the beaches, and the height of the tailings dykes. Areas from 100-200 sq km can be collected in one satellite pass.

Our standard elevation accuracy specs for mining projects is better than 30cm, and you can find out more about our digital elevation data package here. If even higher accuracy is required, contact us as we often can provide higher accuracies depending on the project.

To find out more about our engineering grade satellite topography, contact us at info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.

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 info@photosat.ca or 1-604-681-9770.