Highland Tailing Storage Facility water pond
Tailings are a common by-product of the mining process, created as mined ore is crushed, ground or washed to separate the valuable minerals and metals for further processing. Management of tailings most often involves storage in a specially designed impoundment called a tailings facility. These facilities can be among some of the world’s largest engineered structures and can result in potentially catastrophic consequences to surrounding areas should the facilities fail.1 Teck is committed to managing our tailings across their life cycle in a safe and environmentally responsible way.
Bathymetry surveys, or surveys of a lakebed below water, are a necessary and important part of the work we do to manage tailings facilities. The lakebed in a tailings storage facility changes regularly as new tailings are deposited. Bathymetry surveys provide information on water depth and the capacity of the tailings facility, allowing us to prepare safe and effective tailings deposition plans.
Bathymetry surveys are an important part of how we operate and maintain tailings facilities to meet global best practices for safety throughout their life cycle, but the task can be challenging, especially in less-than-ideal weather conditions. Sub-optimal conditions may lead to errors in results, and potentially pose a health and safety risk for engineers. The team at our Highland Valley Copper (HVC) operation set out to find a better way of conducting bathymetry surveys using an autonomous vehicle.
Conventional Survey Methods
At HVC, bathymetry surveys have been conducted in early spring and fall by two technicians in a small boat. The technicians spend a couple of days using GPS and a sonar survey tool to complete the work. However, weather conditions at HVC can present a challenge; the high elevation at HVC can come with cold, strong winds and high levels of precipitation, making the surveying process difficult for employees. Recognizing an opportunity to improve the bathymetry survey process and improve conditions for employees, the HVC team began to look for alternatives.
Autonomous Bathymetry Survey Vehicle
Two trials were conducted at HVC in fall 2021 and spring 2022 using Copperstone Technologies’ autonomous vehicle. The autonomous vehicle floats on water or above-water tailings while operators remotely control the vehicle from the shore. The vehicle uses the same tools used in the conventional survey method while following a pre-defined route guided by GPS.
In addition to making the bathymetry survey process easier for employees, using the autonomous vehicle streamlines the process by allowing operation in any weather conditions and avoiding the need for a safety watch and boat launch each day of the survey.
“The autonomous surveys were as accurate and quick as the conventional method, and the autonomous vehicle had no problem navigating the Highland Tailing Storage Facility water pond even during high winds,” says Bryan Bale, Chief Engineer, Tailings.
The autonomous bathymetry survey vehicle allows us to continue gathering accurate data to safely manage our tailings facilities while improving efficiency and employee experience. Implementing new and innovative technology that improves monitoring and conditions for employees at Teck’s operations contributes to our Tailings Management strategy and supports our vision of safe and responsible management of tailings across their life cycle.
Read more about our approach to Tailings Management.