Tailings Management in the Mining Sector
Posted: 10/17/2011 12:00:00 AM EDT | 0
Tailings management presents a major challenge for the mining industry, one which if not addressed correctly can create problems decades down the line.
Operations which took place at the Parrot site in Montana, operated in the late 1800s, have left the town of Butte with toxic tailings 100 years down the line, which are set to cost in the region of $10 million to $15 million (£9.6 million) to clear up.
Tests have shown the tailings are leaking into groundwater supplies, but with the mining company long gone, where the funds are going to come from is not immediately apparent.
With corporate responsibility creeping up the agenda and environmental regulations tightening, tailings management is no longer about clearing up decades down the line – and for those which conduct the process well, it could add value to the company in the very near future.
Deriving Value From Tailings Management
Pan African Resources is among the companies looking to boost its business by harnessing the value of tailings and has been conducting analysis at Bramber tailingsdam for exactly this purpose.
Between 1986 and 2011, the Bramber tailings dam was used as a storage facility for the company's Barberton Mines operations. After it was decommissioned, the high price of gold and the low costs associated with the reprocessing of tailings prompted Pan African Resources to assess the dam's potential for boosting production.
Jan Nelson, chief executive officer of Pan African, said early results from 308 auger drillholes, geological profiling and metallurgical recovery test work suggest "the re-treatment of tailings atBarberton Mines is developing into a significant stand alone gold project."
"Not only could it increase the current production profile of the company by 20koz per annum, but also increase the operating margin and reduce unit costs.
"Theproject at a 10 percent real discount rate yields a net present value of approximately ZAR350 million with an internal rate of return of approximately 85 percent assuming a gold price of ZAR300,000/kg," he added.
Drilling work is currently taking place on another 9Mt of tailings, which have the potential to extend the life of the project from around three to 10 years.
Oil Sands Tailings Management
With the world's second largest oil resource outside of Saudi Arabia, Canada's oil sands are likely to remain a major target for energy companies for some years to come. Shell's Athabasca Oil Sands project already presents 2.5 percent of the company's total production.
The strong opposition to the development of the oil sands, however, means tailings management is under heightened scrutiny. So much so, that rivals have agreed to work in collaboration to find ways to boost the process.
Canadian Natural Resources, Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Suncor Energy, Syncrude Canada, Teck Resources, and Total E&P Canada announced earlier this year that they are to share existing tailings innovations and share R&D work in the future, by making technical information more readily available and eliminating monetary and intellectual property barriers.
"The issue is not whether we can manage tailings - the issue is whether we can do it better. We believe that this relationship is a key step towards tailings solutions that will allow us to accelerate the pace of reclamation using the most advanced environmental measures," John Broadhurst, vice president of Shell's Oil Sands Development, said.
One of the key technologies to be shared by the group is Suncor's TRO tailings management process, which won the President's Award in the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer's 2011 Responsible Canadian Energy Awards.
The process involves converting fluid fine tailings more rapidly into a solid landscape suitable for reclamation, by mixing mature fine tailings with a polymer flocculent and applying this in thin layers on sloped sand beaches. The process takes just a matter of weeks to complete and the end product can be reclaimed more quickly.
Suncor plans to invest over $1 billion between 2010 and 2012 on the process and is moving towards full commercialisation, paving the way for others in the industry to do the same.
Jackie Forrest, an expert with the research firm IHS CERA, told Fuel Fix: "The fact that they're not going to patent that process, or try to make others pay licensing fees to use it, is a big change in how technology has been developed in the past.
"That's a sign of things to come."
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