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Understanding groundwater: a key component of the solution of social conflicts in mining projects

Paper from the Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Mine Water Solutions in Extreme Environments held in Vancouver, Canada, April 12-15, 2015. (downloadable PDF)

Author: Alfredo Huamani, MWH, Australia/Peru

Published by InfoMine Inc. 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-9917905-7-9


Many mining projects are proposed or established on land belonging to communities who have only a limited understanding of their groundwater resources. This often leads them to postpone or stop mining projects for long periods, sometimes indefinitely. These events have led to a general improvement in the related legislation and guidance by governmental authorities, typically resulting in more intensive technical investigations and an overall increase in the cost of investment in mining projects. It is considered that a portion of the additional cost arises from the demands of stakeholders who may not possess an adequate understanding of the key hydrogeological issues associated with a mining project.

This misunderstanding usually triggers an extreme environment for mining investments, thus two key actions are proposed to help minimize these costs: undertake to develop an adequate understanding of a project’s hydrogeology at an earlier stage in the project than is typically the norm, including the adequate understanding of two key hydrogeological concepts, springs and seepage, that need to be demonstrated to local communities; and organize and undertake workshops with the local communities at an early stage to help educate the community with respect to the local groundwater resources and the potential effects on the resource associated with a mining operation.

The first key action will involve an early mapping and survey of the project area resources and utilization of mineral exploration drilling data, which can provide key hydrogeological information to develop a preliminary conceptual model of the hydrogeological systems. The second key action is the early organization and development of hydrogeology workshops developed with simple language, and where possible, in mother tongue languages. These workshops help clarify hydrogeological concepts and promote the understanding of the local hydrogeological regime, the potential impacts that could result, and the respective mitigation measures that would serve to reduce or eliminate impacts.

Mining projects that have implemented this strategy are often able to continue developing very quietly, since they are supported by the communities, who are aware of the state of their local water resources. This paper summarizes this approach, as applied to Andean communities in Peru and in the desert plains of the Australian Pilbara, and could be easily adapted to other mining projects worldwide for mine water solutions.

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