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Findings and Conclusions Following ‘Long-term’ Cover System Monitoring – Refinement of the Conceptual Design for Tailings Storage Facility Closure


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Author R Barritt, K Albano and P Scott


Successful closure of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) is an environmental issue faced globally by metalliferous mines. During the initial feasibility and design phase of the mine life importance is placed on the physical stability of above ground TSFs, largely driven by legislative requirements, whilst closure planning is often a secondary consideration. However, as the landform is further developed and constructed attention must be paid to regularly revisit the original closure plan and update it to achieve the best (sustainable) possible outcome for both the environment and stakeholders.

A mine in northern Queensland is in the process of developing a closure strategy at their TSF. Appropriate closure measures for the TSF are required to mitigate the impact of any seepage emanating from the TSF on the groundwater and surface water receptors.

O’Kane Consultants Pty Ltd (OKC) have provided the mine assistance with the development of a TSF cover system design in order to appropriately manage tailings during operations and to prepare for the facilities’ closure. OKC has collected data since 2007 from cover system field trials located on the TSF. To enhance engineering judgement in the design of future cover systems, calibration of soil-plant-atmosphere numerical models to field data (referred as ‘field response modelling’) were completed. Calibrated model inputs can be used to provide insight into long-term cover system performance as well as a tool for design of the final landform.

Following a site investigation, materials characterisation and numerical modelling program various cover system alternatives were developed. Two of the preferred cover system alternatives referred to as Test Plot #1 (TP#1) and Test Plot #2 (TP#2) (Figure 1), were constructed at the site and instrumented. Monitoring instrumentation comprised several nests of in situ volumetric water content and thermal conductivity sensors to measure changes in water content, temperature and matric suction within the cover system materials and underlying tailings waste. Run-off collection buckets and a fully-automated meteorological station were also installed.


Barritt, R, Albano, K and Scott, P,
2016. Findings and conclusions following ‘long-term’ cover system monitoring –
refinement of the conceptual design for tailings storage facility closure, in
Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2016 Conference , pp 85–88 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).