A Benchmark on In-Pit Tailings Disposal

By Alix Becerra, Rodrigo Araya, Claudio Román, Sebastián Cisternas & Jimena Cofré

2 min read

In response to the environmental challenges inherent in conventional tailings storage practices, different solutions are swiftly rising to prominence on a global scale. In-pit tailings disposal emerges as a compelling alternative, gaining traction across diverse geographical regions.

The article provides a comprehensive overview of in-pit tailings disposal, emphasizing the need for a thorough assessment of potential challenges and risks. Through a technical and environmental evaluation, it compares in-pit tailings disposal with conventional tailings storage, highlighting key considerations related to failure modes. Key findings include the reduced need for embankment dams in in-pit storage facilities, mitigating risks to physical stability. Challenges such as groundwater contamination and complex underdrainage systems are noted. Additionally, repurposing already impacted areas and leveraging the operational history of pits are identified as significant advantages, while acknowledging the ongoing management of liabilities associated with open pits. These features show that, beyond mitigating environmental impacts, this method heralds a significant paradigm shift in tailings management strategies.

The investigation extends to the assessment of 41 in-pit tailings storage facilities, providing insights into some of their features. While the dataset may not guarantee global representativeness, it offers significant insights into the suitability of in-pit disposal methodologies across diverse geological and environmental contexts. Despite potential information biases stemming from variations in data disclosure among countries, the gathered information encompasses crucial aspects such as location, geometric attributes, tailings composition, and disposal techniques. This dataset represents ongoing research aimed at laying the foundation for a globally representative database. These cases underscore the versatility of the methodology in diverse settings and reveal nuances in discharge strategies and water recovery practices.

It is essential to recognize that in-pit tailings disposal is an integral component of the broader mining operation framework. Rather than being viewed as a standalone solution, this methodology should be considered a highly recommended best practice from the outset of any mining project. By embracing in-pit tailings disposal as a fundamental component of mining operations, stakeholders can effectively address environmental concerns while optimizing operational efficiency and safety standards.

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