DRDGold using satellite imagery to monitor tailings

DRDGold surface mining operation.

DRDGold’s results covered by Mining Weekly’s Martin Creamer. Video: Shadwyn Dickinson.

DRDGold surface mining operation.

24th August 2022

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor


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JOHANNESBURG ( – Johannesburg- and New York-listed surface gold mining company DRDGold is using satellite imagery to monitor its tailings dumps, in addition to quarterly drone surveillance.

An international tailings performance management system implemented ensures the integrity of data for day-to-day management and oversight.

“There’s a direct line from this into the board, so there’s no sugar-coating of information,” DRDGold CEO Niël Pretorius disclosed on Wednesday, when the company reported a solid set of results and paid dividends for 15 years in a row.

In a presentation covered by Mining Weekly, Pretorius described the surveillance technology being deployed as something about which he is particularly excited. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

“I do believe that technology plays such an important role in managing an industry that is this complex and at this scale,” he added.

 He was referring to the use of interferometric synthetic aperture radar imagery known as InSAR.

“This is satellite imagery that picks up the slightest movement in just the shape, height, and width of tailings facilities, so that if there is any movement of a sidewall, then this gets picked up and it’s brought to your attention. And then there’s the quarterly drone surveillance as well,” Pretorius said.

The disclosure points to the phenomenal sophistication being applied to those tailings dumps so evident around Johannesburg and on the East Rand and West Rand, which is placing the company in pole position to offer a complete tailings management solution to the world.

Tailings management has become a global demand in the wake of the horrific tailings disaster in Brazil and DRDGold considers that it can offer as an additional service, beyond the bounds of its own business, a complete tailings management solution, combined with rehabilitation, which is where its skillset lies.

An external tailings review panel is involved with the management of DRDGold’s tailings facilities, which are characterised by world-leading vegetation that has reduced dust to very low levels.

“This has been work that establishes a benchmark of what good environmental governance is all about, which comes down to the management of tailings,” Pretorius said.

“We run some of the largest in the industry, and although there’s a big move away from upstream deposition, the reality is that there are many of those out there, and they need to be managed in a way that limits their impact on the environment, and that’s where our focus really lies, in becoming the benchmark in the industry on that,” he said.

Sustainable development and rehabilitation expenditure is deeply embedded in the cash-rich company. Group cash and cash equivalents are 16% higher at R2.5-billion, which puts the company in a strong position to continue with its phase of capital expenditure, as well as taking up other growth opportunities. The group remains free of bank debt.


DRDGold also provided an update on the steps it is taking to complete its 20 MW solar power project, which will store power during offpeak hours and draw that stored power during peak hours and halve the business’ carbon footprint.

The company is constructing the solar power plant and power storage facility at Ergo, the gold-from-mine-waste operation on the East Rand.

The first phase of the project involves the upgrading of the existing supply line to the Brakpan/Withok tailings storage facility to 88 kVA, the construction of the initial 20 MW photovoltaic plant, and ten power storage batteries of 10 MW each.

The batteries will be charged off the Eskom grid during offpeak periods, and then drawn during peak periods.

“It’s a wonderful financial model. It basically pays for itself if you use it only for storage at the current pricing profile,” Pretorius told the results presentation.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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