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Geochemical Characteristics of River Deposited Mine Wastes and Associated Contact Waters Downstream of the Ok Tedi Mine, Papua New Guinea — Implications for ARD Management

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  • The Ok Tedi porphyry copper-gold mine is located in the Star Mountains of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. Open-cut mine commenced in 1984 and is due to cease around 2010. The mine produces a total of 88 Mt of waste annually including 58 Mt overburden and 30 Mt tailings, which are discharged directly in to the Ok Tedi River. Mine derived wastes are transported downstream and deposited within the river channel in a variety of bar forms. The prevailing hydrogeological conditions including, velocity, competency, capacity, gradient, grain size and specific gravity, control the deposition and segregation of these sediments. Periodic exposure of the reactive sulfides to oxygen during fluctuations in the river discharge may result in oxidation, localised acid generation and liberation of metals into solution. To evaluate the significance of this issue, Ok Tedi Mining Limited initiated an investigation of the sediments deposited in the upper Ok Tedi River as part of its overall ARD Management Program. The specific objectives were to: • evaluate the acid-forming characteristics of identified high sulfide river deposited sediments; • characterise geochemically the waters in contact with sulfide-bearing river deposited sediments; • map and monitor exposure areas and oxidation depth of deposited potentially acid forming (PAF) sediments; • determine the depositional processes controlling sulfide distribution; and • assess lag period, oxidation and metal release rates for the sediments. This work included the analysis of sediment and water samples collected on a 50 × 50 metre grid at six gravel/sand bars. The sediment samples were analysed for total sulfur, ANC, NAG, total sulfur and total copper. Water samples were tested for general water quality parameters, sulfate and a suite of dissolved metals including; Al, Ca, Cd, Cu, Fe-sol, K, Mg, Mn, Na, S and Zn. This paper presents the results of these investigations with particular emphasis on the geochemistry of the river sediments and associated contact waters.

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