Geologic Controls on the Composition of Natural Waters and Mine Waters Draining Diverse Mineral-Deposit Types
G.S. Plumlee, K.S. Smith, M.R. Montour, W.H. Ficklin, E.L. Mosier, 1997. "Geologic Controls on the Composition of Natural Waters and Mine Waters Draining Diverse Mineral-Deposit Types", 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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Sulfide-bearing mineral deposits formed in reduced conditions out of contact with an oxygenated atmosphere. When sulfides in the deposits are exposed by natural erosion or by mining to atmospheric oxygen and water, weathering of the sulfides can produce natural or mining-related acid-rock drainage. The prediction of water quality that results from mining and mineral processing activities has therefore become a high priority in the permitting of mining activities worldwide, in order to prevent the formation of or mitigate the environmental effects of deleterious drainage waters. In addition, estimating the compositions of natural waters that drained mineral deposits prior to mining is crucial to establish appropriate baseline environmental standards at mine sites.
There are a variety of techniques currently in use to predict the acidity or metal content of mine-drainage waters, most common of which are static and kinetic testing procedures. In static procedures such as acid-base accounting (White et al., 1997, 1999), the contents of acid-generating sulfide minerals from ores and wastes from a proposed mine are measured and balanced against the measured contents of acid-consuming minerals such as carbonates; based on this balance, the materials are determined to be acid generating or non-acid-generating. In kinetic tests such as column or humidity-cell tests (ASTM, 1996), samples of ores and wastes are allowed to react over a period of time under laboratory conditions with oxidized waters or moist air, and the pH and metal contents of the resulting leachates are then measured.
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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