Geochemical Modeling of Water-Rock Interactions in Mining Environments
C.N. Alpers, D. Kirk Nordstrom, 1997. "Geochemical Modeling of Water-Rock Interactions in Mining Environments", The Environmental Geochemistry of Mineral Deposits: Part A: Processes, Techniques, and Health Issues Part B: Case Studies and Research Topics, G.S. Plumlee, M.J. Logsdon, L.F. Filipek
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Geochemical modeling is a powerful tool for evaluating geochemical processes in mining environments. Properly constrained and judiciously applied, modeling can provide valuable insights into processes controlling the release, transport, and fate of contaminants in mine drainage. This chapter contains
1) an overview of geochemical modeling,
2) discussion of the types of models and computer programs used,
3) description of a procedure for screening water analyses for modeling input, and
4) examples of the application of modeling for interpreting geochemical processes in mining environments.
Three general strategies in current use to interpret water-rock interactions are statistical analysis, “inverse” modeling, and “forward” modeling. Multivariate correlation analysis, factor analysis, cluster analysis, and other statistical techniques can group water-chemistry data into sets that may relate to hydrogeochemical processes (Drever, 1988; Puckett and Bricker, 1992). In the field of geochemical exploration, statistical analysis is used widely to treat large data sets of rock and sediment chemistry (e.g., Garrett, 1989). No physical or chemical principles are involved directly in these statistical treatments, hence they are not considered further in this chapter. Nevertheless, statistical analysis can be a useful tool in organizing complex geochemical data for interpretation.
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The Environmental Geochemistry of Mineral Deposits: Part A: Processes, Techniques, and Health Issues Part B: Case Studies and Research Topics
Environmental issues have become important, if not critical, factors in the success of proposed mining projects worldwide. In an ongoing and intense public debate about mining and its perceived environmental impacts, the mining industry points out that there are many examples of environmentally responsible mining currently being carried out (e.g., Todd and Struhsacker, 1997). The industry also emphasizes that the majority of mining-environmental problems facing society today are legacies from the past when environmental consequences of mining were poorly understood, not regulated, or viewed as secondary in importance to societal needs for the resources being extracted. On the other hand, environmental organizations (e.g., Mineral Policy Center, 1999) point to recent environmental problems, such as those stemming from open-pit gold mining at Summitville, Colorado, in the late 1980s (see Summitville summaries in Posey et al., 1995; Danielson and Alms, 1995; Williams, 1995; Plumlee, 1999), or those associated with a 1998 tailings dam collapse in Spain (van Geen and Chase, 1998), as an indication that environmental problems (whether accidental or resulting from inappropriate practices) can still occur in modern mining. Recent legislation imposing a moratorium on new mining in Wisconsin, and banning new mining in Montana using cyanide heap-leach extraction methods further underscore the seriousness of the debate and its implications for mineral resource extraction.
In this debate, one certainty exists: there will always be a need for mineral resources in developed and developing societies. Although recycling and substitution will help meet some of the worlds resource needs, mining will always be relied upon to meet the remaining needs. The challenge will be to continue to improve the ways in which mining is done so as to minimize its environmental effects.
The earth, engineering, and life sciences (which we group here under the term “earth-system sciences,” or ESS for short) provide an ample toolkit that can be drawn upon in the quest for environmentally friendly mineral resource development. The papers in this two-part volume provide many details on tools in the scientific toolkit, and how these tools can be used to better understand, anticipate, prevent, mitigate, and remediate the environmental effects of mining and mineral processing.
As with any toolkit, it is the professional’s responsibility to choose the tool(s) best suited to a specific job. By describing the tools now available, we do not mean to imply that all of these tools need even be considered at any given site, nor that