Regulatory Aspects and Permitting Requirements for Precious Metal Heap Leach Operations

Thatcher, Jeffrey ; Struhsacker, Debra W. ; Kiel, Jean
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 19
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1988
3.1 INTRODUCTION As heap leach precious metal projects become increasingly common in the United States, federal, state and local regulatory agencies are beginning to take a closer look at the short- and long-term environmental consequences of this recovery technology. From an operator's point of view, there is seemingly a confusing regulatory maze to be navigated and a plethora of permits and approvals to be obtained prior to commissioning a heap leach operation. The degree of difficulty associated with obtaining permits for a heap leach project depends largely upon the state in which the project is located. Permit acquisition is generally easiest in those states most familiar with heap leaching technology. For example, heap leaching is well understood in Nevada, and heap leach operations are relatively easy to permit, although permitting conditions in Nevada have recently become more stringent. However, many states are just beginning to become familiar with heap leach operations. Many of these states such as Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Montana, Washington and South Carolina are in the process of drafting regulations and establishing guidelines for heap leach projects. In most cases, these regulations specify design and operating criteria as well as reclamation and decommissioning procedures. This chapter provides an overview of the regulatory and permitting aspects of heap leach operations. Permitting requirements for projects developed on federal land are discussed in detail. 'The state and local regulatory atmosphere and permitting requirements for various states are also presented. The chapter concludes with a generic permitting strategy. 3.2 KEY ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS The primary concern of most local, state, and federal regulatory agencies is the use, storage and transport of sodium cyanide (NaCn), and potential cyanide contamination of surface and groundwater resources. The toxicity of cyanide to people, fish and wildlife is also an important issue. Unfortunately, in the public eye, cyanide heap leaching has some emotional impacts similar to those associated with radioactivity and uranium mining. This perception and the general lack of understanding of cyanide can lead to unnecessary concern about cyanide contamination, further complicating the regulatory environment.
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