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.
Low carbon world needs $1.7trn in mining investment
According to a new report from consultancy Wood Mackenzie, mining companies need to invest nearly $1.7trn in the next 15 years to help supply enough copper, cobalt, nickel and other metals needed for the shift to a low carbon world.
Cutting carbon emissions
The United States, Britain, Japan, Canada and others raised their targets on cutting carbon emissions to halt global warming at a summit in April hosted by US President Joe Biden.
Meeting those targets will need large-scale deployment of electric vehicles, storage for power generated from renewables and electricity transmission, all of which require industrial materials, such as lightweight aluminium and metals used in batteries such as cobalt and lithium.
Wood Mackenzie analyst Julian Kettle calculated miners needed to invest about $1.7trn during the next 15 years to “deliver a two-degree pathway - where the rise in global temperatures since pre-industrial times is limited to 2°C”.
“At an industry level, there seems to be reticence around investing sufficient capital to develop future supply at the pace and scale demanded by the energy transition (ET),” he said.
Mining firms are wary of making heavy investments after their experience of the last decade when they invested in new capacity just as demand peaked, leading to a collapse in prices and revenues. They also need to please investors, who are unlikely to want to see dividends diverted to capital spending.
Rising demands of investors related environment, social and governance (ESG) issues further add to the challenge.
Australia, Canada and Western Europe carry a low ESG risk but some of the best resources are in high-risk areas, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, which sits on about half the world’s cobalt reserves according to the U.S. Geological Survey. “Given the need to meet tough decarbonisation and ESG targets, Western governments, lenders, investors and consumers will need to get comfortable operating in jurisdictions where ESG issues are more complex,” Kettle said.
Kettle said government support was needed to help miners comply with ESG issues to ensure production from high-risk areas was conducted in an acceptable way to consumers.
“Then, and only then, will the West be able to secure sufficient volumes of the raw materials needed to pursue the energy transition in the timescales envisaged.”