How Drone Data Can Support Environmental Compliance From Mine Development To Closure

Stringent guidelines relating to environmental compliance for mining operations¹ and the requirement for ongoing mine closure planning means the mining industry’s environmental impact has never been more scrutinised.

Add to this the increased investor interest in environmental accountability and it is no surprise that mine operators are keen to ensure compliance.

Across the mining landscape, Rocketmine’s drone technology is providing critical support to deliver accurate data that helps minimise environmental impact and supports decision-making from mine to mill. Environmental impacts vary from state to state, but Evan McKern, General Manager of Rocketmine (WA) and a mining engineer with over 20 years’ experience, is convinced that drone technology is game-changing for the sector.

With particular regard to minimising environmental impact, the company offers pre and post disturbance surveys, volumetric and conformance reporting for landform construction, landform erosion surveys, aerial data capture to monitor vegetation health, and data evidence to support annual environmental reporting. McKern stresses the importance of enabling mine operations to not only meet compliance but understand more accurately how the nature of the areas in which they operate can deliver additional benefits.

While the focus of environmental assessment and compliance reporting can vary between regions, pre and post disturbance surveys, landform conformance and erosion surveys, as well as flora and fauna data collection, are of significant interest to Rocketmine’s customers in Western Australia.

Rocketmine works with the off and onsite environmental managers and environmental superintendents who oversee much of the daily operational rehabilitation work.

In line with the mine closure planning requirements, the continuous rehabilitation of waste dumps needs regular earthwork volumetric reporting exercises.

Re-profiling landforms to comply with designs demands accuracy to ensure that earthworks contractors rehabilitate landforms compliant with stipulated parameters. Rocketmine’s capacity to fly drones regularly and capture data quickly not only provides detail to the contractor, but allows the environmental manager to check that the contractors have completed the job to specifications.

The advanced high resolution RGB, multispectral and LIDAR sensors onboard Rocketmine’s drones deliver instantaneous data for numerous accountability checks.

Rehabilitation of landforms can be assessed and measured against pre-disturbance baseline data; topsoil stockpiles calculated to guarantee there is sufficient supply to comply with rehabilitation plans; and erosion and vegetation checks conducted to fulfil annual environmental reports.

In WA, where invasive weeds can be a major problem in revegetated areas, Rocketmine drone’s high-resolution imagery allows weed species to be identified and eradicated before it becomes problematic, reducing time and costly impacts.

While fauna is not typically problematic in Western Australia, McKern relates a number of cases in the Kalgoorlie region regarding Malleefowl, where Rocketmine has carried out several projects for clients.

Here, Malleefowl birds are classified as ‘a threatened species’ so protecting them and their habitat is critical. The difficulty for miners arises from the birds’ nesting habits, with the breed constructing mounds to which they return year after year. With each successive breeding season, these mounds get larger, some measuring 4 metres across and over 1 metre in height. In a recent scenario, existing malleefowl mounds had to be located to enable the expansion of mine infrastructure to be planned without impacting any mounds.

Rocketmine was invited to use their drone LIDAR capability to capture data which was then processed through AI algorithms to identify likely mound locations and avoid delays in the planned expansion works. This mound detection method saved many days of work by a field team to locate the mounds, resulting in significant cost and safety benefits.

McKern cites pressure from investors as another major consideration for miners. Mining companies are keen to use efficient and economical means, like Rocketmine technology, to enable regular data capture which satisfies both investors and regulators of their ongoing commitment to monitor environmental impacts.

With mining operational approval reliant on submission of a clearly defined plan that stipulates ongoing rehabilitation and a design for rehabilitation of the environment at mine closure, the regulator stipulates that what mines say they will do, happens. For the client, this means starting with the best baseline data; excellent detailed topographic data and visual imagery and evidential data of ongoing rehabilitation so that, at closure, there is clear evidence of what the restored landscape should look like. This is where Rocketmine’s capacity for accurate evidence gathering through high resolution RGB imagery, multispectral imagery, and LIDAR, is invaluable to mine operators.

McKern points out the versatility and capacity of Rocketmines’ data collection examined here is not exhaustive. With additional capacity to conduct air quality drone assessments and use of LIDAR in measuring biomass to quantify tree growth for carbon farming and fauna monitoring, the various needs of miners in other states can be equally served to support accountability across the mining sector while minimising environmental impacts.

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