Tailings dams are a fact of life for most miners – every hard rock mine in the world has a tailings dam, and some have several. Because they contribute nothing to the bottom line, are costly to build, and lead to ongoing maintenance and management costs, tailings dams are treated as a necessary evil and financial liability by most mine operators.
Generally, tailings dams are managed by exception and receive little or no focus or attention until something goes wrong. With legislation in some countries regarding the management of tailings dams ranging from poor to non-existent, there is a tendency for irresponsible mine operators to do little or nothing about proactively managing the tailings dams on their properties.
This is a short-sighted approach, though. The possibility of endangering the health, safety, and lives of people, both mine staff and local and downstream residents, as well as the risks of environmental and reputational damage, and disrupted operations mean that responsible mine operators include the management of tailings dams as an integral part of their overall safety and risk management strategy.
There is also a growing awareness in mining circles that safer mines are more productive. In well-managed, modern mines, technology plays an important role in the management of tailings dams.
Many mines already use a combination of advanced devices and techniques to monitor and manage their tailings dams, including:
- Piezometers – To monitor ground water levels (and pore pressure in embankments and the surrounding topography if required)
- Depth Meters – To monitor the level of tailings in the dam at specific points
- Inclinometers – To act as an early warning system for the potential of slope failure
The effectiveness of these devices is vastly improved if they are connected to a real-time, battery-powered wireless monitoring system, like the Loadsensing systems from Worldsensing.
These systems also offer easy scalability, so any other piezometers on the site (e.g. for groundwater, pore pressure, and open pit stability monitoring), as well as many other types of monitoring instruments, can be integrated to provide a fully wireless, mine-wide solution.
Moving into the future, we believe that the next step will be more adoption of the use of off-site, third-party specialist support centers, like the Ramjack Remote Operations Centre (rROC), which remotely monitor and manage the tailings dam and other parts of the mine and provide insight and expertise via a tram of industry experts who man the center.
To learn more about how Ramjack can help put this solution together for your mine, follow this link to the Loadsensing webinar, where Stephane Cantin explains how the rROC can be used for tailings dam monitoring among many other use cases from around the world.