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A Strategy for Managing Acid Rock Drainage in Arid Climates — The Mt Whaleback Story

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  • BHPBilliton operates the Mt Whaleback Mine located in the semi-arid Pilbara Region of Western Australia. Approximately 200 Mt of net acid generating (NAG) material still remains to be mined. Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) was first identified at the site in 1995 following cyclonic storms. This resulted in the development of strategies that have allowed the mine to successfully manage ARD whilst continuing to operate. BHPBilliton Iron Ore is working toward prevention of ARD in its operations, however, historical practices have left residual areas that must be considered. Three significant sources of ARD have been identified that must be managed: • stormwater run-off from exposed pyritic shales in pit surfaces; • basal flows beneath overburden storage areas following rainfall events; and • contaminated water from pit dewatering. The mine has contains all ARD water onsite. This is achieved by: 1. storage of all affected water in the ARD dam; 2. evaporation of affected water from the ARD dam and the adjacent evaporation ponds; 3. pumping from upstream dams to prevent stormwater from being affected; and 4. emergency storage and treatment in-pit as a contingency. The site ARD management strategy is approved by senior management and endorsed by State Government regulatory authorities and relevant external stakeholders. Additional strategies are also under evaluation to effect long-term closure of the operation. Record rainfalls from 1998 - 2001 have tested the capabilities of the ARD strategy and management plan. Learnings from these events, coupled with recommendations from an extensive technical audit in 2000, have been incorporated into the strategy for ARD management. This paper presents the strategy and an overview of the ARD management plan that can be considered and applied by other affected sites in the management of ARD.

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