Q&A: rethinking tailings dams monitoring with Inmarsat

Yoana Cholteeva 13 November 2019 (Last Updated December 23rd, 2019 11:13)

With tailings dams in the spotlight, companies are being forced to look closely into the way they manage the byproducts of mining. Yoana Cholteeva speaks with Joe Carr, global mining innovation director of Inmarsat to find out about the company’s efforts to increase transparency while keeping an eye on dams around the world.

Q&A: rethinking tailings dams monitoring with Inmarsat
Source: Barsamuphe

 

 Yoana Cholteeva (YC): Why there is a need for the IoT to be used in tailings dams monitoring?

Joe Carr (JC): Most of our focus in the last 12 months has been on tailing dams. Recently we got approached by a company who said: “We’ve got tailings dams all over the world, some are incredibly sophisticated and well-monitored, using IoT, and some of them are more manually-monitored, people go in and measure things, recording details in books. A big part of the reason that people haven’t been using IoT to monitor tailings is a lack of connectivity.”

Actually, many miners would tell me that they struggle just with very basic problems with accessing reliable connectivity. I sat down with a mining company the other day and they said they struggle just to have a video conference on their mine site. How in this modern age can someone struggle just to have a video conference? But that’s the thing, there’s got to be a better way to do it and this is our mission. The industry has a connectivity problem and it’s been there for a number of years, so how can we solve it?

So on one side you have connectivity prohibiting the adoption of IoT monitoring solutions and on the other has been a lack of focus on monitoring practices to drive the adoption of smarter monitoring practices. A few years ago tailings dams were somewhere in the corporate report, today they are right in the centre, they’re being talked about constantly and people are saying we need to do something about tailings because if we don’t that will affect our social license to operate.

In this industry if we need to produce the raw materials for the future, we have to do something about our tailings dams and IoT monitoring, real-time instrument monitoring, is the perfect way to do this. You can connect our solution to instruments on the dams and you capture all the data in real time and then deliver it on a cloud with an API out to the customer, their auditors, even regulatory bodies if needed. It’s all about increasing transparency and governance.

When you look at what the Church of England is talking about now in terms of having a global database of all the tailings dams, you can’t look at that and not say “How can we have a global database without a system like Inmarsat’s to provide the backbone of it?” The industry can’t provide that without a real time method.

YC: How will your monitoring solution create transparency for tailings facilities in Australia?

JC:  Australia has a number of tailings facilities in far-flung, remote places with some operational and some closed. With a closed facility you might be talking about someone getting into a helicopter and flying a couple of hours or driving for several days back and forth to manually monitor a dam, which has a safety risk with lone working and also its often an unnecessary expense.

With Inmarsat’s Tailings Dam Monitoring Solution any of your stakeholders can understand the conditions at the dam with regular data points being visualised in a cloud-based application. This allows you to provide governance, make smarter decisions, review audit trails and understand how your dams are being managed across the country or the world from one place. So from having to board a helicopter and go to a dam once a quarter, suddenly you can monitor conditions in real time anywhere in the world.

YC: Can you tell me a bit more about your partnership with Glass Terra?

JC: We are looking to work with Glass Terra on a monitoring project in Queensland that combines their Lidar IoT solution with our real-time instrument monitoring solution. The two technologies are very complimentary so we are excited about how the potential outcomes. We have been looking at places to test the solutions in site and hope to have more updates into 2020.

YC: Has interest in the technology come from miners mainly or from regulators?

JC: I guess it’s a mix, we have conversations with miners, we have conversations with insurance companies and we have conversations with regulators because there have been no global regulations on tailings standards and we see that today some of the bigger countries have different regulations State by State.

There’s a lot of questions and mining companies want to be ahead of the regulations and be able to answer these questions for regulators. A lot of mining companies especially the major ones don’t just want to meet regulations, they want to have the best technology and that’s what most of our conversations are about.

YC: You recently joined the Global Mining Guidelines Group (GMG), could you tell me what are you hoping to achieve as part of the group?

JC: We joined the GMG to help support the sector’s goal towards zero harm and improved environmental performance in areas such as tailings dams. The Global Mining Guidelines Group is a great example of collaboration across the mining industry and their work highlights the importance of key stakeholders in different regions joining forces. Our membership demonstrates our commitment to the industry and offers the GMG a different dimension in their mission to broaden the use of innovative technology and improve safety across the sector. In particular, joining GMG at the top ‘leadership’ level enables us to widen the sector’s exposure to new skills and technologies, such as our tailings dam solution, helping make the industry safer and more efficient.