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Evaluation of Limestone Covers and Blends for Long-Term Acid Rock Drainage Control at the Grasberg Mine, Papua Province, Indonesia

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  • The Grasberg is a large copper and gold open pit mine operated by PT Freeport Indonesia and located in the high equatorial mountains of Papua Province, Indonesia. The climate is alpine/sub-alpine with little seasonal variation in temperature and rainfall. The annual precipitation varies from about 3000 to 5000 mm over short distances around the Grasberg, but in general, an average daily precipitation of 10 mm per day applies and leaching of the overburden is continuous throughout the year. Mining commenced in 1988, and almost all of the overburden mined up to 2003 was potentially acid forming. From 2003 to the end of the Grasberg pit operation in 2014, approximately 70 per cent of the overburden will be potentially acid forming and 30 per cent limestone. A major focus of the investigations is developing strategies to maximise the beneficial use of the limestone that will be mined. Laboratory columns and field test pad investigations have been ongoing for six years examining limestone blends. Trial dumps utilising truck placement and conveyor/stacker placement and blending of limestone and acid generating rock have recently been constructed. In addition, based on initial results, investigations aimed at further evaluating the performance of limestone covers in this high rainfall environment have commenced. A significant finding has been the identification of strong armouring layers on sulfide surfaces within well-blended material and under limestone covers. These layers effectively isolate sulfides and thus progressively slow the oxidation rate to a level where the alkalinity load from the limestone exceeds the rate of acid generating. ARD is controlled and neutral low metal drainage results. The results have demonstrated that although limestone blending is effective, it is necessary to ensure that all size fractions within the blend receive adequate acid neutralising capacity to buffer the potential acidity. Because the sulfur content generally increases and the acid neutralising capacity decreases with decreasing particle size in limestone blends, the amount of limestone required greatly exceeds the stoichiometric requirement. This paper describes the development of limestone blending specifications for potentially acid forming overburden and presents the results of the ongoing limestone cover trials at the Grasberg mine.

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