Brazil disaster throws spotlight on tailings management
Image: Douglas Magno / AFP / Getty
Article published in Mining Safe to Work publication on April 18, 2019 – Read the full article here
A recent feature on the management of tailings dams following another incident in Brazil which experienced its worst ever environmental disaster with the collapse of Dam 1 at Vale’s Córrego de Feijão iron ore mine in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais in January.
The collapse of the upstream-style dam led to the deaths of an estimated 300 people, causing widespread condemnation.
Technology is a key factor improving tailings safety monitoring and management. New South Wales-based tech company Otus Intelligence Group has developed a system it says can provide a ‘first line of defence’ by using satellite imaging to identify potential issues arising at tailings dams (as well as other infrastructure projects such as road and rail networks) that couldn’t be seen otherwise.
This includes minuscule surface movements that can’t be picked up by other means, including drones and ground workers. While the satellite technology itself is not brand new, Otus hopes that its technology helps mining companies delineate the information in a way that can be more easily digested by the top brass.
“Our approach is to deliver something for less technical users that have to make the decisions at corporate level,” Otus managing director Marc Beaudry explains.
Our approach is to deliver something for less technical users that have to make the decisions at corporate level
“When managing tailings, for example, decision typically comes from a corporate level, because it involves a huge financial risk for the companies. The novelty of our approach is how we deliver the data to be used by a less technical audience.”
The system scans large areas for signs of activity and if something is found that warrants further analysis, recommendations are implemented to improve surface-level monitoring.
This also has other safety benefits as it removes the necessity of having workers enter often remote and dangerous tailings areas, allowing for more efficient deployment on the ground.
“We turn the lens of multiple satellites on to one site to try to find the answer to why it is moving. In most cases, it was an excess of water in the tailings that was putting excess weight on the dam itself,” Beaudry explains.
The Brumadinho disaster is a wake-up call that has forced the industry to tighten its management of tailings dams.
Post breach image of Brumadinho Tailings Facility, Minas Gerais, Brazil