Mining Report: Water Management Strategies
Mining is a capital-intensive operation and thus the need to manage cost is vital, but increasingly the emphasis has extended to environmental concerns as well. Not only do mines need to operate under increasingly tight budgets, they also need to be environmentally sound; sustainability is a key buzzword in the sector for more reasons than one. One way to ensure efficiency and long-term cost reduction is by implementing an effective water management strategy on-site.
Water management, however is routinely listed as one of the top global challenges facing mine development, production, and even closure. Successful mine water management can mean the difference between operating at a profit or loss – it’s hard to get right.
It is therefore understandable that water in mining is a key concern for operators. As well as driving cost saving and efficiency, mine water management is also important considering emerging trends within the sector. Consider for example that future mining investments will be located in geographical locations where water is scarce (water stressed areas). Furthermore, a decline in grade will increase the intensity of mineral processes and therefore increase the use of the water. Couple these factors with increased sustainability and regulations regarding the control and monitoring of water during the entire mine life cycle and it becomes clear that mining corporations need to sit up and listen when it comes to water management.
The water cycle in mining is complex, and needs to align with the entire mine life cycle. To create a successful water strategy, mining firms need to combine procedures and best practices with software and technology to enable successful management.
Environmental management strategies
First and foremost, it is incredibly important to ensure that the quality of water leaving mine sites in not adversely affecting water users downstream. In order to comply with regulations, mining companies need to develop water management plans to minimize the potential for water contamination, and to prevent the release of polluted water into the environment. Surrounding surface and groundwater quality needs to be monitored, and a number of treatment processes can be used to ensure mine water meets regulatory standards prior to being discharged.
In recent decades there has been a greater emphasis put on the environment, resulting in more stringent regulations worldwide, which has in turn sparked a response from the international mining industry. “Environmentally responsible practices, especially relating to water, have become central to the viability and acceptance of a modern mining operation. For example, if other stakeholders believe a mine is using too much water, or polluting the water, it can lead to social conflict and discontent,” says Mining Facts website.
Water management strategies are used to minimize the environmental impact of mining operations, and are now at the heart of mine development, operation, and restoration activities. Increasingly, companies exceed regulatory compliance in order to provide clean water to surrounding communities.
Water control techniques
As discussed, reducing the potential for water contamination needs to be top of the agenda for mining corporations. Not only does this positively impact upon the surrounding environment but will also drive significant cost saving when it comes to minimizing the volume of water requiring treatment. Mining Global explores a number of techniques including:
Intercepting and diverting surface water
Surface water such as rain, snowmelt runoff, stream and creeks need to be prevented from entering the mine site - this can be achieved by building upstream dams to reduce potential for water contamination from exposed ore and waste rock.
Recycling water used for processing ore
Recycling water used for processing reduces the volume of water requiring treatment, driving cost saving and efficiencies across the board.
Capturing drainage water
Capturing drainage water from precipitation at the mine site through the use of liners and pipes and directing the water to tailings dams in order to prevent potentially contaminated water from entering groundwater or flowing off site will help with water management.
Allowing the water to evaporate in ponds
To reduce the volume of contaminated water, in dry regions, enough water may be evaporated that no water needs to be discharged, resulting in the containment of contaminates at the mine site.
Installing liners and covers on waste rock and ore piles
This will reduce the potential for contact with precipitation and contamination of groundwater.
The management of water on-site is vital in modern mining. A different combination of strategies can be applied depending on the mine site – technology and software can also be implemented to manage analytics and data. Ultimately mining firms need to manage water on-site for greater profitability, efficiency and environmental planning.
Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations
Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.
Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel
The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.
“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.
“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”
Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba
Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.
“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.
“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”
The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history. Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.
“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.