Acid rock drainage at Amulsar will be controlled and will not negatively impact water quality - international expert
YEREVAN, JANUARY 22, ARMENPRESS. The primary method of modern management of acid rock drainage is prevention of pollution, Larry Breckenridge, expert from the US Global Resource Engineering, QP under Canadian legislation told in an interview to ARMENPRESS. The expert commented on the rumors of negative impacts of the Amulsar Gold mine in Armenia.
- What is acid rock drainage and is it an issue that is specific to Amulsar only?
- Acid rock drainage is a natural process that occurs in certain rocks. Specific types of minerals (sulfides) produce acid if they come into contact with water and oxygen.Mining exacerbates this process as it exposes the rock to contact with water and oxygen. This is a common issue in many mining projects all over the world. It is not specific to gold production, nor Armenia, nor Amulsar. There are many acid rock drainage control methods that we use in modern mining to manage the problem. These methods have been proven successfully in mines elsewhere. Unfortunately, previously, mining worldwide hasn’t done a good job in managing acid rock drainage which created a bad reputation for mining. However, today in most countries it is a legal obligation for mining companies to use modern mitigation measures to control acid rock drainage. It is also a requirement of lending institutions. The banks that have invested in Lydian require that Amulsar manage and control acid rock drainage. In my 20 years of experience, I have managed acid rock drainage risk in many projects world-wide.
- However, the recently published reports comissioned by a diasporan critic H. Bronozian pictured a worrisome perspective that acid rock drainage will impact all water resources around Amulsar. Is this s legitimate concern?
- In fact, modern, well managed mining projects all over the world successfully use techologies that we will use at Amulsar to protect water and soil around the project. It is possible to operate and close a gold mine without negative impacts from acid rock drainage. The technologies used today are very efficient. As I said, several decades ago mining industry had not been implementing any measures to prevent and manage acid rock drainageand this lack of attention resulted in long-term environmental issues in many mine sites worldwide. As a result,people’s concerns are understandable. However, experts that are up to date with modern mining environmental management methods know that there are effective scientific solutions to the issue of acid rock drainage. Modern mitigation measures are based on a pollutionprevention approach which is better for the environment. And this is the approach Lydian has chosen to implement at Amulsar.
- One of the things that these critical reports of the Amulsar project insist on, is that Lydian has not been open about the issue of acid rock drainage. They say that Lydian claims that the ore at Amusar is oxidized and there is no risk of acid rock drainage. Is that so?
- One important clarification is that Amulsar ore is indeed fully oxidized and the acid generation potential is not with the ore itself, but with the barren rock. Barren rock is rock that must be removed from the pit to gain access to the ore. Some of the barren rock has the potential to generate acid and Lydian has disclosed this fact in all its relevant documents. Lydian has also maintained that the acid rock drainage conditions are manageable and controllable. One of the reasons for this is because the ore is not an acid rock drainage risk, but instead, only a portion of the barren rock.
Any comments are welcome, but we very much expect the debate to be based on facts. The authors of these critical reports haven’t been to Amulsar and have conducted no research there. All their criticism is based on Lydian’s own publicly available studies. Thus, the Amulsar Environmental and Social Impact Assessment does provide comprehensive information on the acid rock drainage studies, Lydian has been very open about the issue. Lydian studiesalso contain detailed acid rock drainage management plan that explains how this issue is going to be managed.
- So how is acid rock drainage controlled? What are these measures?
- Modern approach is based on pollution prevention. This plan is to prevent the formation of acid rock drainage in the first place.So, one common thing many modern mines do worldwide is called encapsulation. The portion of barren rock that has acid generation potential will be covered i.e. encapsulated by non-acid generating rock and soil. This will mitigate the penetration of precipitation into the barren rock. Without water, acid rock drainage cannot form. Additionally, special collection systems, that include pipes and collection ponds are being built at Amulsar as we speak, that will collect any water that will come into contact with the mine infrastructure. All contact water will be collected and used in the mining process. Consuming all potentially-impacted water prevents discharge to the environment, and therefore, the impact on the quality of nearby streams and lakes. And finally, as an additional measure, upon closure, the project will install a modern passive treatment system that will treat any water that flows into the environment after the mine is completed.
- Has this method been tested elsewhere?
- Yes, quite successfully. Acid rock drainage is a common issue worldwide and there are dozens of scientific conferences and forums on the modern mitigation measures of the issue. These measures that I have described are based on solid science and are proven methods that are used in modern mines worldwide. There are mines that have been closed 20 years ago, we have returned to those sites and have seen that encapsulation method is working successfully and the area is clean even 20 years after the mine was properly closed. What I and my colleagues have designed for Amulsar has successfully worked in Brazil, Peru, the US and elsewhere.
- So why do you think the authors of these reports still do not believe the arguments you bring?
- It is hard for me to speak about the motivations of other people. One issue may be that the authors of these reports have never touched the rock at Amulsar. It is important to have firsthand experience at the site to be able to objectively assess the site conditions.
I want to emphasize that these are technical- scientific processes and it is our obligation, as scientists to explain how modern mining solutions solve environmental management issues. We welcome the criticism and any comments, as this makes us put more effort into explaining what we do in a less technical language.Butit is important to keep the debate on the scientific level, whereas the critics of Amular project often mix scientific arguments with emotional ones. Mining exists and will exist in the decades to come. In fact, as the demand for renewable energy- solar panels and windmills, and electrical vehicles grow, the demand for metals worldwide will also be growing.Mining touches all parts of oureveryday life- cars, computers, telephones, electronics, medical devices, pens and scissors, you name it. As a result, the emotional argument of- we do not want mining, is something we can’t tackle with scientific arguments. However, the science consistently addresses the issue of how to make mining safer for the environment. And in this area, I am ready to defend the science behind the management measures we have selected. They have been proven successful at other projects, and will work at Amulsar as well. That is why I was here this week. I have dedicated my professional life to making mining projects safe for water. I know it is possible, and I welcome the opportunity to explain how this is done.