SOUTH JORDAN, Utah – Managers at Rio Tinto Kennecott say another landslide is possible this spring, but they’ll know about it days before it happens.
Thursday, managers showed off the multiple layers of detection they use to track movement in the almost three-mile deep open-pit mine.
Joan Danniger, a technical services manager at the mine, said there are actually at least seven different detection systems, ranging from classic to high-tech.
“We’re not looking at any one specific,” said Danniger. “So what we do is we have these multiple layers of control, and we’re watching for those signals.”
Tuesday, managers saw those signals when they detected movement in the southwest section of the mine pit. Managers immediately evacuated the area, and operation in that section is still closed while they continue to monitor movement.
Monitoring is done through constant laser scanning of the walls, GPS photo taking, and probes in the ground. Danniger said they can detect shifting down to 1/100th of an inch.
“If we see something that’s not expected or abnormal, or we see some acceleration, then we’ll put controls and that’s where we have this triggered action response plan,” Danniger said.
Mine operations manager Dave Meador said Tuesday’s slide was also not unexpected. They saw the signs early, but this is also the time of year they’d expect to see movement.
“This is an area that sees increased levels of moisture, and we have had increased precipitation, which can lead to dilation,” said Meador. “So it tends to be a bit seasonal.”
Meador said it’s also important to put Tuesday’s slide into perspective. The size is small, roughly 1/1,000th the size of the landslide that came down in 2013.
The multiple monitoring systems saw that slide coming as well. Managers were able to make sure all employees were out of the area.
Thursday, managers added another layer of monitoring, through drones. Danniger said it’s something they’d been looking at for about a year. The drones will help take scaled areal photos and help place probes in hard to reach places.
With all the layers of monitoring, managers are confident they’ll be able to spot problems before they become a risk.