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Using tailings insights to support safer TSF management

Published by , Editor
Global Mining Review,

Some of the world’s biggest engineering structures are tailings storage facilities (TSFs) and one of the greatest risks for mine owners, and the communities and environments in which they operate, is the far-reaching damage that occurs if they fail.

Brazil’s Brumadinho tailings dam disaster, the largest and most recent in a spate of TSF failures, triggered an unprecedented overhaul of global safety regulations leading to the introduction of the world’s first global safety standards for tailings management.

As a result, resources companies are now required to be more transparent in their disclosure of tailings risk and insurers have been quick to line-up behind the new standards making insurance cover difficult to secure unless miners can demonstrate compliance.

Mine operators estimated it could take up to 6 weeks per site to collate their tailings data for industry requests using traditional manual processes and siloed datasets. For large-scale businesses, with more than 50 facilities, this can be an expensive and demanding process.

Decipher’s specialised Tailings Monitoring & Governance solution for TSF management combines a large range of data sources to significantly streamline the complex and costly process of tailings monitoring, management and reporting.

The cloud-based application combines regulatory compliance management, mining waste management, stakeholder engagement, environmental monitoring, and environmental management system into a single feature-rich package, with secure global access, to industry, regulators, designers and operators can share data and monitor facilities from anywhere in the world, at any time.

Tailings insights on demand

Powerful data dashboards are one of the many ways the mining and resources industry is using advances in software to safely TSFs – driving down cost, protecting people and the environment, and meeting stringent new tailings governance requirements.

Decipher’s customised dashboard module pulls top line information into a crisp, graphical view. Users no longer have to drill down to dissect individual datasets. Instead, the company deliver a snapshot of the status of TSF assets on a single screen.

No other TSF management solution brings together as many tailings and environmental monitoring components into a single, centralised repository.

Local data global view

The innovative solution is helping market leaders such as Rio Tinto keep its finger on the pulse of tailings storage infrastructure across the company’s expansive global network.

The multinational is a pioneer in metals and mining with operations in 36 countries across six continents. It is recognised as a market innovator that embraces technology, and when faced with the challenge of finding a secure and centralised cloud-based solution to manage important TSF datasets across all their sites globally, Rio Tinto engaged Decipher.

“The Decipher product had a number of features that we were looking for already available through their existing modules. On top of this, the Decipher team showed a keen willingness to work through all of our requirements and develop the additional features we needed,” said Jon Lapwood, Rio Tinto Principal Advisor, Geotechnical Engineering Growth and Innovation.

The integrated system brings together a comprehensive suite of tools, including geospatial feeds such as earth observations, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), landform, erosion tracking and weather conditions, overlayed with mapping and blast data, environmental monitoring and sampling results, and stakeholder details.

It offered company managers, technical specialists and operating staff around the world three levels of interrogation and the records they need for accurate, timely tailings disclosure with external analysts and regulators. The levels include:

  • Macro: a lightweight database of key data for each TSF including actions, stakeholders and compliance.
  • Monitoring: an overview of asset condition and status including InSAR, chemistry, satellite imagery, water quality and quantity.
  • Micro: Detailed data from LiDAR, radar and IoT devices (monitoring piezometers, inclinometers, seismometers etc.) feeds.

This makes it possible for Rio Tinto to visualise facilities across multiple sites and quickly identify, assess and minimise failure risk for its TSF assets, while streamlining tailings disclosure and reporting across the company’s big asset inventory.

On the alert for tailings risk

Subtle changes in ground movement are often the first indicator that a TSF is vulnerable. Most TSFs fail because of factors such as foundation weakening, seepage, overtopping and earthquake damage, but ground movement can be difficult to track using conventional methods, particularly when you are dealing with large, complex structures that can have walls over 25 m high and more than 5 km long.

Decipher puts these factors under the microscope, tracking minor changes in key variables and sending immediate safety alerts when conditions vary from pre-defined safety parameters.

Changes in soil and physical attributes, such as surface and groundwater, decant pond water levels and quality, and embankment conditions, are tracked using data from devices such as piezometers and monitoring bores, or via water levels and vibration. Land subsidence and movement is detected using remote sensing, such as satellite derived InSAR datasets. This can be visualised in real-time using LiDAR data and combined with specific insights into dam movement using hardware and data from providers such as GlassTerra.

Combining a rich mix of integrated data to pinpoint subtle changes in condition and landform, is one way the system promotes safety and reduces TSF failure risk. Users receive an alert when changes are detected, can view a graphic analysis on the dashboard, and then drill down into the different tools to extract more detailed information.

The complete picture

The Tailings Monitoring & Governance solution has been built to support industry best practice, reducing the burden on companies to manage tailings facilities and meet new tailings compliance requirements, including the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, Global Mining Review and International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) expectations.

Sophisticated workflows incorporated into the software refine and automate many of the tailings management processes. Operating and licence conditions are captured, tracked and stored, to ensure obligations are met and key risks are efficiently managed. Actions and tasks can be set up, with reminder and escalation notifications, along with tools to maintain and track environmental monitoring compliance limits and any exceedances.

Data from IBM’s Weather Channel streams directly into Decipher, providing a clear, more accurate context when forecasting, planning and tracking site activities.

The capacity to integrate with third party systems, including public registers such as the Global Tailings Portal, ensures Decipher users have an accurate, consistent central source of truth when it comes to managing and engaging with all stakeholders. Custom reports can be produced quickly and easily and exported in various formats to meet requests for information from industry groups such as ICMM, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).

Being cloud-based, with robust security protections, you can also give independent and external users, such as insurers, investors, auditors and the Independent Tailings Review Board, access to a quick and effective knowledge bank containing appropriate and vetted TSF data.

At its core, this is a solution that enables you to harness the power of existing, current and future data and stores it in a secure and accessible cloud platform. It draws on Decipher’s powerful monitoring capabilities, consolidating tailings data from many different sources – satellite imagery, InSAR remote sensing, drone inspections, bore monitoring, pond water level monitoring, dust monitoring, IoT devices (monitoring piezometers, inclinometers, seismometers etc.), LiDAR, ground-based radar, CCTV and drone inspections – into one easy to use central location.

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