The role of geochemistry and hydrogeochemistry in mine waste management

The role of geochemistry and hydrogeochemistry in mine waste management

The demand for natural resources has experienced a significant surge in recent years due to factors such as population growth, urbanization, and technological advancements. Mining is a crucial industry that provides the materials necessary for many aspects of modern life, from construction to electronics to renewable energy production. However, the generation of mine waste can pose serious environmental risks if not managed properly. It is essential for mining companies to not only extract these resources in a responsible and sustainable manner, but also to effectively manage the waste generated during the process.

Geochemistry and hydrogeochemistry are disciplines that are well suited to inform management of mine waste. From assessing potential environmental impacts to identifying and informing appropriate methods of storage to mitigate those impacts, the expected behaviour of the materials is unlocked by investigative geochemical analyses. The generation of mine waste can result in long-term environmental damage if not managed properly, and traditional methods of storage management are often inadequate. However, by applying geochemical and hydrogeochemical principles, we can better understand the behaviour of water in mine waste and identify potential risks associated with storage.

By analysing the chemical properties of waste, we can predict how it will behave over time and how associated contact water will be affected. It is important to assess the potential risks and communicate appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate potential environmental harm. Best practice approaches include, identifying optimal locations and designs for waste storage facilities to minimize the risks of contamination and seepage into the environment or identifying alternative closure/remedial measures to reduce long term environmental damage.

Water quality and quantity can vary both in time and space, and datasets can be considerably large. Using data analytics or advanced modelling techniques provide powerful systematic and reproducible frameworks for interrogating large and complex datasets associated with water. Using adaptive models and bespoke analytical workflows can re-create background conditions, evaluate storage scenarios and create robust predictions based on fundamental principles or statistically validated machine learning algorithms.  

By collecting and analysing large datasets of groundwater quality and other hydrogeochemical parameters, we can better understand the fate and transport of contaminants in storage facilities, the environment and develop appropriate mitigation measures where and when it is possible to affect change.

Our expertise in water quality (including ion interaction and eco-toxicology based on best practice) helps our team to evaluate the potential impact of mine waste on water resources and ecosystems. We use predictive analyses based on thermodynamic principles to determine the types and concentrations of potential contaminants in water flows and evaluate the potential risks to water resources by predicting quantitative change to background conditions. By combining this information with data analytics, we can develop targeted solutions to minimize environmental impacts associated with mine waste management.

In conclusion, fundamental geochemistry and hydrogeochemistry comprising discipline expertise and data analytics provide a powerful approach to derisking mine waste storage and reducing environmental impacts associated with mining operations. By using these tools, we can better understand the complex interactions between mine waste and the environment, identify potential risks, and develop effective solutions to safeguard water resources and ecological health.

Roald Strand, P.Geo
Roald Strand (P.Geo)
Associate Geochemist