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Environmental characterisation of coal mine waste rock in the field: an example from New Zealand

Author:
J. Hughes   D. Craw   B. Peake   P. Lindsay and P. Weber  


Journal:
Environmental Geology


Issue Date:
2007


Abstract(summary):

Characterisation of mine waste rock with respect to acid generation potential is a necessary part of routine mine operations, so that environmentally benign waste rock stacks can be constructed for permanent storage. Standard static characterisation techniques, such as acid neutralisation capacity (ANC), maximum potential acidity, and associated acid–base accounting, require laboratory tests that can be difficult to obtain rapidly at remote mine sites. We show that a combination of paste pH and a simple portable carbonate dissolution test, both techniques that can be done in the field in a 15 min time-frame, is useful for distinguishing rocks that are potentially acid-forming from those that are acid-neutralising. Use of these techniques could allow characterisation of mine wastes at the metre scale during mine excavation operations. Our application of these techniques to pyrite-bearing (total S = 1–4 wt%) but variably calcareous coal mine overburden shows that there is a strong correlation between the portable carbonate dissolution technique and laboratory-determined ANC measurements (range of 0–10 wt%calcite equivalent). Paste pH measurements on the same rocks are bimodal, with high-sulphur, low-calcite rocks yielding pH near 3 after 10 min, whereas high-ANC rocks yield paste pH of 7–8. In our coal mine example, the field tests were most effective when used in conjunction with stratigraphy. However, the same field tests have potential for routine use in any mine in which distinction of acid-generating rocks from acid-neutralising rocks is required. Calibration of field-based acid–base accounting characteristics of the rocks with laboratory-based static and/or kinetic tests is still necessary.


Page:
1501-1509


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