The program for the conference Tailings and Mine Waste ’08 gives a preview of debates to come. The conference is slated for 19 to 22 October in Vail, Colorado. I have made my hotel booking - you should be doing likewise.

Andy Fourie, Professor at the University of Western Australia opens with a provocative title Future Tailings Management Strategies – High Time We Took the High Road. My guess is he will emphasize the need to reduce water consumption. Probably he will tell us to use powerful thickeners, cyclones, and paste tailings. Maybe he will tell us to use the tailings as mine backfill rather than creating new geomorphic forms on an innocent landscape. And he will probably tell us that if we do create new geomorphic forms, then they should be geomorphically sculptured to respond to the forces of erosion as does the natural landscape. If he knows how to deal with the problem of acid drainage and how to avoid perpetual treatment of seepage water (I doubt he does) it will be worth hearing him for that insight.

Next follows a session on case histories. Water use again takes the spotlight. L. George talks on the site-wide water balance of the Pierina Gold Mine in Peru. Three et als. talk on the design and construction of an evaporation pond at an old uranium mine. Then there is an enigmatically title paper by R.K. Will Mining Impacts: A Case Study. I will go just to find out which mine he is talking about and what the impacts were. Still it is a terrible title.

Geotechnical considerations come up in the subsequent session. I will avoid the presentation on the properties of cured cemented tailings for backfill. Some like that kind of thing, but I propose we relegate those data to obscure appendices. Then there is another of those enigmatic titles A New Tailings Management Tool. This raises an obvious slew of questions: what kind of tool; to do what; is the tool a philosophy, an instrument, a computer code? Oh dear, I suppose one cannot expect too much specificity. Finally Gord McKenna proposes a paper on landscape design for soft tailings deposits. It is no secret he is working on the oil sands tailings which are soft; I can hardly wait to see how he will achieve the next to impossible.

Back to water and geochemistry in the third session. I will avoid the paper on arsenic and arsenic bonding - I never was much of a chemist. The paper on hydrological flow through waste piles might be interesting. We all know it is partially saturated flow through a heterogeneous medium; we all know ratholes and funnels form; we all know the seepage perches on construction surfaces and piddles out on the benches; and we all know that the seepage water is sometimes pretty good leachate for reprocessing for metals. I wonder what new insight an expert like M. Friedland will bring to bear on the topic.

Then to the hoary old stand-by, namely reclamation and remediation. Jim Gusek who is the expert talks on the past, present, and future (a vast time scale) of treating selenium-impacted water. As a non-chemist I won’t be there. Jim returns immediately with a paper on the limits of biochemical reactors. From what I know they last only a short time, need to be renewed, and generally produce a noxious waste. There is some promised relief in the paper on reclamation and closure cost planning and estimation and the mining life cycle. Although again I must wonder what there is new to say on that topic. No decently run mine devoted to shareholder value wants to accurately estimate closure costs. Best left to the time they might be able to go bankrupt.

Design, operation, and disposal is the topic of the subsequent session. I will be there to hear about mine waste management in the Canadian low Artic. And also for a paper on relocating the James Creek impoundment to make way for a pit expansion. I will wonder off when they talk about heat and chemical mass balances in subaqueous tailings disposal facilities.

On day two we have two interesting papers on heap leaching. James Kunkle kicks off with a discussion of the reality and myths of heap leach pad lixiviant flow. Mostly as I understand it that the lixiviant does not go where you want it to, avoids most of the pile, and never obeys any reasonable physical laws. Then Hudson and Taylor address the challenges of dealing with thermal conditions in heap leach pads. Keep it hot, cool it down, and change the totality of your success. The enigmatic title award in this session goes to Innovative Mine Waste Disposal in Two Distinctly Different Settings.

Session 4B and counting has a paper on uranium tailings facility design and permitting in the modern regulatory environment. I wonder if it is technical practice that has changed or if it is the regulators have changed since I dealt with uranium mill tailings. Maybe neither, and maybe this is just a chance to talk about what they are doing. Should be fun though. Then there is a paper on tailings closure in Ghana. That is one place I have no desire to go. But it might be interesting to see how they close piles in Ghana for ”economic development.” Employing the otherwise unemployed to carry soil in small devices? Similarly re mine tailings disposal in Papua New Guinea. We are hardly likely to get the truth in that presentation.

Next is a session in which we will be told that geomembrane liners leak and covers leak and that, do what you will, you cannot stop infiltration to or exfiltration from tailings impoundments.

Session 5B takes us back to water balances:

  • M Nelson on Stochastic prediction of mine site water balances, Gilt Edge Mine Superfund Site
  • A Trautwein Using water balance tools for site design, operation and expansion management.

I look forward to those papers. And then thankfully lunch.

The afternoon goes on until a punishingly late six pm. Why so late? Maybe because there are three sessions. The first is back to design, operation and disposal. A paper on designing pipelines for thickened tailings, a paper on vibrating screens, a paper on Hydro-Clean, and an outlier on remote monitoring of coal dumps in hazardous terrain, (or is it hazardous dumps in mountainous terrain?).

The session on policies, procedures and public safety takes us back to the hoary topic of using multi-attribute analysis to justify your gut feeling for the best waste dump site. Then three ambiguity & enigmatic award papers:

  • Towards responsible management of tailings facilities
  • Developments in the safety and security of mining industry dams
  • Life cycle assessment approach to evaluating tailing management.

Finally from 4:30 to 6:00 pm we are promised five presentations on case histories. At least then I can relax. Only three papers give the name of the site. They are: Gold Quarry; Grouse Creek; Jaduguda, India. You guess the rest.

Finally at six there is a “Gala Reception” in the Rocky Mountain Ballroom. We will all deserve a drink. See you there.