A Study of Marine Disposal of Mine Tailings

Findikakis, Angelos N. ; Kerl, Johann F. ; Ryan, Patrick J.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 9
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1986
Introduction Tailings disposal methods used by the mining industry include the use of on-land impoundments, surface and underground mine backfill and marine disposal. The latter method, where applicable and under certain circumstances, can be the most economical and best environmental option. The term marine disposal is used to describe deposition of tailings in the open ocean, coastal waters, fjords and inland lakes. A major element in planning and designing a marine outfall is the assessment of its potential environmental impacts. The nature of the disposed tailings, and the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the receiving water body must be carefully assessed prior to deciding whether marine disposal is an acceptable option for a particular project. During the last decade, the North American mining industry has demonstrated a commitment to studying potential adverse environmental impacts of marine tailings disposal and to continue monitoring of the receiving waters. Extensive monitoring programs have been undertaken by Canadian mines. Marine tailings disposal is not used in the United States today. One of the largest U.S. mines proposing to use this option is the Quartz Hill mine of U.S. Borax in Southeastern Alaska. To assure the regulatory agencies and the public of the viability and acceptability of this option, U.S. Borax undertook an extensive program of environmental studies aimed at assessing the impact of marine tailings disposal. This program was part of the feasibility and environmental permitting studies conducted by Bechtel Civil & Minerals, Inc, on behalf of U.S. Borax. Due to the unique nature of the proposed tailings disposal system, a Board of Consultants was established. The Board assisted in planning the modeling and field program and reviewed ongoing work. This paper outlines the basic elements of the marine tailings disposal study program which can be viewed as a prototype for similar studies elsewhere. Background The Quartz Hill molybdenum deposit is located on a knoll in an elevated valley in a mountainous region of southeast Alaska, about 45 miles east of Ketchikan (Figure 1).
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