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Underwater Tailing Placement at Island Copper Mine

Authors: George W. Poling et al
Published by Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration - 2002
216 pages

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By their very nature, mining operations generate significantly more waste than ore. For a large-scale mine, this can translate into several hundred million tons of waste rock and tailings that must stored and eventually reclaimed. Waste storage on this scale requires vast land mass and significant expense for site reclamation once the mine is closed.

For some mining operations located near a marine coast, underwater tailing placement can be an attractive alternative to land-based impoundment. Under the right conditions, deep sea tailing placement can be less costly and more environmentally friendly.

Underwater Tailing Placement at Island Copper Mine: A Success Story documents an important case study on the use of deep sea tailing placement at the Island Copper Mine on Canada’s Vancouver Island. It’s the most extensive study on underwater tailing placement ever conducted. Over the course of 30 years, more than 400 million tons of tailing solids were deposited deep on the ocean floor with little environmental impact. The study examined all aspects of this innovative program, beginning with its initial implementation in 1971 to five years after the mine’s closure.

Given particular tailing and marine conditions, deep sea tailing placement can offer significant benefits. Tailing solids, once deposited on the ocean floor, are generally stable and have little or no impact on marine life. Because waste disposal occurs well below the ocean surface, aesthetics are never an issue.

Underwater tailing disposal significantly reduces land use requirements for a mining operation. In addition, recent improvements in pipeline transport technology have made it feasible and cost-effective to implement underwater tailing placement for an inland mine up to 125 miles (200 km) from the shore.

The study evaluated the relevant issues associated with the implementation of a deep sea tailing placement program, including engineering, chemical, biological, and environmental considerations. This text presents the successes and lessons learned from the largest program of its kind. It’s an invaluable resource for mine operators who are considering the applicability of this cost-saving, ecologically sensitive alternative for mine tailing disposal.

Chapters include:

  • An Introduction to Deep Sea Tailing Placement
  • Selection of Subsea Tailing Placement
  • Engineering Challenges and Solutions
  • The History of the Morphological Change on the Seafloor of Rupert and Holberg Inlets
  • Geochemistry: Chemical Stabilities of Tailings Sediment
  • Changes in Physical and Chemical Properties of Rupert Inlet Waters
  • Changes in the Biological Properties of the Pelagic Environment of Rupert Inlet Waters During 22 Years of Mine Operations
  • Seabed Biodiversity and Island Copper Mine: Impact and Recovery
  • Underwater Biodiversity Surveys and Biological Colonization of the Waste Dump Shoreline
  • Fisheries, Tailings Bioassays, Trace Metal Bioaccumulation in Benthos, and Settling Plates
  • Postclosure Rehabilitation and Assessment of Inlet System

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