Managing abandoned mine liability through better spatial data

The innovation of using satellite imagery to monitor land movement is becoming increasingly available to industries across the globe in assessing and identifying risk and the government sector is no exception.

One of the biggest problems facing Australia is the regulation of abandoned mines. “Australia’s mining sector urgently needs to address its legacy and ongoing environmental impacts” says ATSE, Australia’s leading non-government organisation of Technology and Engineering.

“Australia’s mining sector urgently needs to address its legacy and ongoing environmental impacts” – ATSE, Australia’s leading non-government organisation of Technology and Engineering

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The problem of abandoned mines is a contentious topic of debate that has gathered attention from the likes of state government agencies to research institutions. In Australia alone, the number of operating mines does not exceed the number of abandoned mines. According to the ABC, approximately 60,000 mine features in Australia have been reportedly abandoned, and this number is only growing by the day. To make matters worse, this is not a problem unique to Australia. There is roughly half a million abandoned mine features in the United States which in turn translates to a substantial threat to wildlife, clean water and even communities situated near these sites.  In California, the threat is so apparent that the state regularly employs teams to search for these abandoned mines and plug them (there was even a “dirty jobs” episode on it)

With hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines in the world, just how worried should we be? Paying for the clean-up is no easy task as well. Rehabilitation of a mine can cost hundreds of millions of dollars – so you can easily imagine how big of a problem we have on our hands.  Government just don’t have the financial might (or willingness) to fix the problem.

Despite this seemingly unsustainable problem, monitoring abandoned mines using satellite imagery is indeed possible and could potentially be the most straightforward solution in identifying and assessing the dangers of abandoned mines – at least according to HansJorg Eberle, the director of Crosstech remediation services provider and subsidiary of the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action.

Otus has developed tools that can help government agencies identify the areas that require immediate attention and keep an eye on other lower risk sites by monitoring subsiding ground, water and vegetation related issues over large areas without having to send boots on the ground.

Given that the number of abandoned mines will only increase in the years to come, satellite imagery monitoring will only become more reliable in detecting abandoned mines in real time, revolutionising the way governments tackle mining problems and monitor for compliance.

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