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Using UAVs for CRBPs

Using drones to assist with conservation and reclamation business plans

July 25, 2017  By Martin Baker

July 25, 2017 – When acquiring Surface Material Leases (SMLs) in Alberta, there are many regulatory steps that operators must go through prior to receiving government approval to extract aggregate resource on Crown land. One of these steps is for the applicant to develop a Conservation & Reclamation Business Plan (CRBP), which is essentially a detailed plan describing how the applicant plans to develop the aggregate resource and resolve any related environmental and/or land-use issues.

The CRBP details the operator’s sequential plans for site development, operation and final reclamation and must include related plans, diagrams and cross sectional drawings to provide a visual representation of this throughout the life of the operation.

As per Alberta Environment & Parks’ Guideline for Acquiring Surface Material Dispositions on Public Land, the applicant must provide pre- and post-development cross sectional drawings to show the pit and adjacent areas in profile. These drawings must show the surface landscape, thickness/volumes of topsoil, overburden and extracted resource material on site. This is where UAVs come in. AERIUM Analytics is now working closely with The Lorrnel Group (TLG) to acquire accurate pre- and post-disturbance data to build more detailed and accurate cross sectional models to include in operators’ CRBPs.

TLG has been approached by many operators in Alberta to support them in both new SML applications, as well as lease renewals on historical SML sites that have been partially extracted. For those looking to apply for a new SML, gathering accurate baseline data on topography is critical in developing pre-development drawings. It is now possible to create accurate topography and contour mapping using UAVs and the basic principles of photogrammetry, which is the process of turning multiple 2D images into high-resolution ortho images and 3D models, or LiDAR. These 3D models are then used to create pre-disturbance cross sections and help in designing long-term operational and reclamation plans. Operators are now able to utilize UAV technology to more accurately design the phases of resource extraction, soil and overburden stockpile volumes and location, slope design and surface water management.


In many situations, operators find themselves having to renew expiring SMLs in order to continue extracting resources on Crown land. Renewals have become even more of a complex scenario in that current site conditions often differ from the original CRBP plans that were in many cases submitted decades ago. Often TLG find that CRBPs require substantial redesign in order to meet regulatory requirements. For these situations, UAVs have become an invaluable tool and have enabled operators to gather real-time data on current site conditions. Operators and consultants are able to cross-check soil stockpile volumes, pit extraction areas and volumes and slope grading with original CRBPs to check for any deviations or changes that are required in operational and reclamation plans.

Once a Crown lease application or renewal is approved, operators are then required to submit annual operating reports (AOR) to the government, which provide updates on operational activity. Questions such as total area of lease that has been cleared on vegetation, total area of extraction, total area under reclamation, average depth of area extracted, must all be answered in the AOR. It is often difficult for operators to accurately answer these questions and as such, this often results in absent or deficient AORs. Again, UAVs are quickly becoming a tool for obtaining such data. Yearly UAV data collection enables operators to provide accurate AOR data while monitoring operational development to ensure that activities are compliant and in line with their CRBP.

Upon final reclamation, UAVs can also be used as a final measure for comparing closure plans to original CRBPs. Local government land use officers will often assess these conditions prior to issuance of a Reclamation Certificate and as such operators are quickly realizing the potential for assisting this process.

UAVs and the use of photogrammetry are becoming attractive solutions to many operators across Canada. It is enabling more accurate and consistent planning even outside of public land applications and CRBP requirements. UAV technology allows for the acquisition of more data quicker, while decreasing safety risks of working in and around active pit operations. Data acquired through UAVs will continue to be used in many ways to support pre-planning, operational management, and final reclamation for years to come.

Martin Baker is the manager of land and environmental services with The Lorrnel Group, a sister company of AERIUM Analytics.

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