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|1.1 INTRODUCTION This chapter seeks to provide an overview of important factors involved in the implementation of heap leach technology as a vehicle for gold extraction from its ores. Toward this end, brief discussions of the various elements important to this process are presented here. Topics covered in this chapter include a brief history of the process; basic chemical reactions responsible for the process ; characteristics of ores amenable to heap leaching; location of the greatest concentration of heap leach projects in the U.S.; heap leach components, methods, regulatory/permitting considerations; and economic considerations. Most of these subjects are treated at much greater length in subsequent chapters. Thus, this chapter serves as a summary for those which follow, in addition to providing the reader with a feeling for those topics which may be of most immediate interest. 1.1.1 History of the Process Modern Day Precious metal heap leaching technology has developed over the past decade, although the principles of heap leaching per se, as well as those of gold extraction through cyanidation have a long history (see discussion below). However, it is in the past 10 years that heap leaching has developed into an efficient method of treating oxidized gold and silver ores. It has proven to be both an efficient way to extract precious metals from small, shallow deposits, as well as an attractive way to treat large, low- grade, disseminated deposits. Heap leaching has several advantages compared to conventional milling (i .e., crushing, grinding, and agitation leaching). In general, these advantages include simplicity, lower capital and operating costs, shorter start-up times, and less intensive environmental regulatory concerns. A possible disadvantage of currently existing heap leach technology is a potentially lower percentage of metal extraction being obtained from the ore than would be the case with conventional milling (Potter, 1981; Hiskey, 1985; and Thorstad, 1987) The actual principle of heap leaching has a long history as inferred previously. For example, mines in Hungary recycled copper-bearing solutions through waste heaps in the mid-sixteenth century (Hiskey, 1985), and Spanish miners percolated acid solutions through large heaps of oxide copper ore on the banks of the Rio Tinto around 1752. By 1900, leaching operations were employing such techniques as leach/rest cycles to maximize copper recovery (Taylor and Whelan, 1942; Thorstad, 1987). Copper dump leaching is currently|