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Heap leaching is a method used most commonly for the mining of gold. Along with heap leaching comes many environmental concerns and considerations. In order to decrease these environmental concerns, there must be regulations placed on the mining of gold. Regulations can stem from control acts, enforced by the Department of Energy and other agencies similar to this, to simple regulations dealing with the equipment companies must use in their daily excavations.
The heap leaching method used to extract gold uses cyanide as part of the process. This can be “toxic to fish and wildlife” and is therefore an environmental concern with the mining of gold (Bartlett 79). Some other concerns taken into consideration when dealing with gold mining and heap leaching are “preventing bird poisoning on wet heaps and solution storage ponds […as well as amounts of] wind blown dust and other air contaminants [which] can be serious” problems spreading throughout the environment (Bartlett 79). Contamination of surface and ground waters is a major concern as a side effect of heap leaching (Bartlett 79). There has been action taken in order to reduce the possibility of any of these environmental considerations taking place during and after the process of heap leaching.
It is recommended that in order to regulate heap leaching of gold, companies use methods of containment along with close monitoring in order to recognize problems before they occur (Bartlett 79-80). As I stated in my second essay, the ore and solution removed from the heap leaching process is discarded onto leach pads. These pads are the “most important element[s] of the solution containment system” (Bartlett 80). The leach pads help prevent toxic solutions from running off into the surrounding areas and therefore they decrease the risk of harming any living organisms living in the area the mining is occurring in. “Proper foundation preparation is necessary to prevent movement and tearing of the liner” of the leach pad (Bartlett 80). If this were to happen then the leach pad would not be a sufficient means of protection for the environment.
Another way to protect the environment is by having a solution collection system.
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Some other ways to regulate the effects of heap leaching is by making sure that heap movement does not occur and that there is a stable water balance. The problem of heap movement can be reduced "if perched water tables are located at the edge of the heap” (Bartlett 92). Another way to reduce the possibility of heap movement is if some of the lifts are stair-stepped back so that there is a flatter average angle of repose (Bartlett 92). Having stable water balance can help in “avoiding spills of leaching solutions or other contaminated water” (Bartlett 93).
When mining for gold, and using the heap leaching process, there are many easy ways to avoid environmental problems. While, the environmental considerations concerning heap leaching are important, it is not necessary to stop this form of mining because of regulations placed on heap leaching methods such as the ones mentioned. These are all successful ways to decrease the toxicity released into the environment, and they can help make mining safer for all living organisms.
Bartlett, Robert W. 1998. Solution Mining: Leaching and Fluid Recovery of Materials.
Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, Australia, 79-103 pp.