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Around-the-clock environmental monitoring a tech trend

By |  May 20, 2021
While some regulatory bodies may have previously asked for educated guesses on water volume flows at outfalls, Sauls Seismic’s Mark Taylor says more regulators are putting an emphasis on monitoring discharged volumes continuously. Photo: Sauls Seismic

While some regulatory bodies may have previously asked for educated guesses on water volume flows at outfalls, Sauls Seismic’s Mark Taylor says more regulators are putting an emphasis on monitoring discharged volumes continuously. Photo: Sauls Seismic

Vibration monitoring has been a decades-long part of the process blasting operations follow as a means to stay in compliance with regulators and in the good graces of their communities.

Producers will likely continue to monitor blast vibrations for decades or centuries more to come, but they’ll likely also be monitoring other aspects of the environment in and around pits and quarries regularly. That’s because regulatory and community pressures are intensifying to uphold certain standards on water quality, outflows and dust. The pressures are driving producers to tech solutions such as continuous monitoring systems using telemetry.

“Demographics across the country are [driving] increased environmental concerns, there’s a new environmentally friendly-focused administration in [Washington], D.C., and more stringent environmental regulations are continuously being proposed,” says Jeff Taylor, president of Sauls Seismic.

According to Taylor, the amount of pressure a producer feels often depends on which state they’re in. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, for example, addresses water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants to waters of the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authorizes the NPDES permit program to state, tribal and territorial governments, enabling them to perform many of the permitting, administrative and enforcement aspects of the NPDES program.

These permits last five years and must be renewed. But, as Taylor describes, some states are rolling out new requirements that beg for monitoring solutions.

“Some people calling us are those in states where their NPDES permit has expired and they’re having to get it renewed,” Taylor says. “States are introducing new requirements that have never been done before, such as having to monitor flow/outflow locations. Some states require flow rates to have some type of valid monthly estimate of flow rates that are dependable on data.”

Tech as a solution

Sauls Seismic’s Mark Taylor says producers historically sought out continuous monitoring systems after a violation occurred or a fine was levied. Now, Mark says a number of producers are proactively seeking out solutions to get in front of regulators or their community.

“They (producers) found that citizens groups don’t really understand,” says Mark, who serves Sauls Seismic as environmental services manager. “They see things online and hear people talking, and they get scared. So if they can take data and explain to groups and politicians what they’re doing to prevent this, a lot of times it will help alleviate fears.”

Sauls Seismic, which is in its 41st year, began focusing on telemetry for blast vibration about 15 years ago. At client requests, Sauls Seismic began using telemetry within recent years for other purposes.

The company applied telemetry to rain gauges before expanding it to weather stations and later flow monitoring and neighboring groundwater well levels. Specific alerts are sent when “parameters of concern” are reached.

“We’re basically using the same type of telemetry – cellular or satellite modems – that provide continuous monitoring 24/7,” Jeff says. “It’s now evolving into the environmental territory as clients are seeing the need to be proactive instead of reactive.”

Producers are now asking about dust monitoring solutions, too.

“Our main focus is to provide accurate, defendable data to show that there’s no evidence that aggregate operations’ dust can negatively affect health or be out of compliance,” Jeff says.

According to Mark, putting a continuous monitoring system to use also presents safety and cost-savings benefits.

“We’re preventing companies from having to send someone to remote locations to check the pH of water or see if a pond is flowing,” Mark says. “Say you have a pH issue: You can watch it and see where it’s starting to trend down. You may have to do something, but a lot of times that can prevent a violation rather than have an inspector come out and pull a sample.

“By then, that’s too late and you’re in violation,” he adds. “That is where the data comes in handy.”

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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