Infrastructure monitoring

Background 

Ethical investment is a rapidly growing form of investment which seeks to not only consider the financial return but also the impact of the individual companies within the investment portfolio on its governance, and its impact on society and the environment. Consumers are actively engaging more with companies that carry out trusted sustainable practices. Therefore, the application of an ethical investment strategy can yield greater profits, with reduced risk.

An example of a group of ethical investors is the Investor Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative which is governed through a steering committee chaired by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council of Ethics of the AP Funds. This group was convened in 2019 after the failure of the Brumadinho tailings storage facility in Brazil, which cost 270 people their lives and created major environmental disaster. A tailings storage facility is a manmade structure to hold the waste material, and often toxic chemicals, associated to the extraction of metals and minerals.

The Investor Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative recognised the need to strengthen standards around the safety and monitoring of the tailings within the industry. As part of this initiative it is acknowledged that there is also the need to independently monitor all tailings facilities worldwide. Satellites have been identified as one of the cornerstone technologies for such a monitoring system due to their independent and global scale of operations.

The following case study demonstrates how we are using satellite technology to monitor the socio-environmental impact of critical infrastructure such as tailings storage facilities.

The Challenge

On the 28th March 2020, a significant tailings incident occurred at the Luming Mine facility, situated in China’s north-eastern province of Heilongjiang. Early reports suggested there had been a large amount of seepage from the facility which could have impacted the mining community and contaminated the local water supply. These claims, however, had not been backed-up by official responses from the state and no additional information had been provided by the mine operator.

As a result of the suspected negative socio-environmental impact, the investment community were concerned about the status of the incident and required additional information to help their current and future investment strategy.

The Solution

GlobalTrust carried out satellite based analytics to validate the sparse reports coming out of local news outlets and to quantify the damage, if any, to the local communities and environment.

Using multi-spectral satellite imagery GlobalTrust was able to quickly identify the presence of seepage from the facility, and also estimate the spread of this pollution into the local mining settlement and the adjacent river system. Within the first 10 days, traces of the tailings could be detected in excess of 115km downstream of the tailings facility. The analytics also identified that large areas of vegetation close to the waste storage facilities had been destroyed where the river banks had burst with the influx of tailings.

GlobalTrust rapidly provided the above analytics, interpretations and recommendations into a briefing pack to the Investor Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative to help inform their asset managers and facilitate their ongoing investment strategy into similar assets. This type of trusted environmental, social and governance information, provided near real time, is critical to limit risk and maximise profits for the investment community.