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Valid spontaneous combustion hazard assessment for surface mine environmental impact statements


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Author J Theiler and B Beamish


Spontaneous combustion hazard assessment from an environmental impact perspective is not well understood and is seldom given due consideration in environmental impact statements. In surface mining operations, self-heating, leading to spontaneous combustion may occur when rock units containing reactive metal sulphides and organic carbon are disturbed by mining operations and exposed to the atmosphere. When these rocks are present self-heating will occur in situations where the rate of heat generated from oxidation reactions exceeds the rate of heat lost to the surroundings. The processes and mechanisms that lead to spontaneous combustion events are varied and generally complex.

To effectively manage spontaneous combustion in surface mining operations, it is necessary to characterise the spontaneous combustion propensity of the geological materials involved. Until recently there has been no testing procedure for assessing the propensity of waste rock to spontaneously combust that has been adopted by industry. However, new developments in adiabatic test methods have proven successful in determining the self-heating behaviour of coal (Beamish and Theiler, 2015) and coal containing reactive pyrite (Beamish and Theiler, 2017). These adiabatic test methods have now been modified to assess the incubation behaviour of waste rocks and can be used for their spontaneous combustion characterisation in advance of mining (Beamish and Theiler, 2016). The new method provides a practical means to establish the likelihood of developing a spontaneous combustion event for the specific site conditions. This paper presents examples of the use of a cost effective first pass filter for assessing spontaneous combustion potential of waste rock based on geochemical data from four surface mines. This is supported by adiabatic Incubation Test results for three of the mines and visual examination of cores for one of the mines.


Theiler, J and Beamish, B, 2018. Valid spontaneous combustion hazard assessment for surface mine environmental impact statements, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2018, pp 64–67 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).