British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

A review of the reclamation research program at Teck Cominco’s Sullivan Mine at Kimberley, BC Przeczek, John 2004-06-04

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A REVIEW OF THE RECLAMATION RESEARCH PROGRAM AT TECK COMINCO’S SULLIVAN MINE AT KIMBERLEY, BC  John Przeczek, R.P.F.  Interior Reforestation Co. Ltd. P.O. Box 874 Cranbrook, B.C.  V1C 4J6   ABSTRACT  The Sullivan ore body, a world class iron-lead-zinc sulphide deposit at Kimberley, BC, was discovered in 1892 by prospectors who were initially attracted to the area by previous lead-silver discoveries. Cominco Ltd. acquired the property in 1909 and mining operations began in 1910. Reclamation activities began at the Sullivan mine in the late 1960’s and a research program to convert waste rock dumps and tailing ponds to productive forest and rangeland was initiated in 1972.  Initial studies focused on determining how to revegetate waste rock and mill waste.  Various studies demonstrated that at least 30 cm of growth medium is required to grow a satisfactory grass dominated plant community and at least 60 cm of growth medium is required where alfalfa is a desired component.  They also demonstrated that complex covers that integrate a float rock capillary barrier are effective in reducing the movement of acids, salts and metals into the growth medium.  Species screening trials were used to determine which tree and shrub species would have adequate survival and growth rates. Growing season moisture deficit is the most significant limiting factor at the Sullivan Mine and it was necessary to create conditions that were free of vegetation competition before tree and shrub planting efforts were successful.   INTRODUCTION  The Sullivan ore body, a world class iron-lead-zinc sulphide deposit at Kimberley, BC, was discovered in 1892 by prospectors who were initially attracted to the area by previous lead-silver discoveries. Cominco Ltd. acquired the property in 1909 and mining operations began in 1910.  During the 91 years the mine operated, approximately 150 million tonnes of ore and 14 million tonnes of waste rock were brought to the surface. After a long and productive history, the Sullivan Mine closed on December 21st, 2001. During its operation, the Sullivan Mine achieved international acclaim for the size of its underground mine operation, discoveries and innovations in mining and smelting methods, and for its major investments into the socio-economic fabric of the Kimberley area.  Teck Cominco’s ongoing reclamation commitments will ensure that their legacy of environmental stewardship will continue.  Reclamation activities began at the Sullivan mine in the late 1960’s, with the focus on reducing waste water discharge into local watercourses and upgrading waste rock dumps and tailing disposal areas. Due to local site conditions, early tailing disposal practices, and the need for a long term post-closure strategy, it became clear that the collection and treatment of drainage water from the mine and tailing ponds was the most effective method of managing acid rock drainage (ARD).  A state-of-the-art drainage water and effluent collection and treatment system was constructed and has been operating effectively and economically since 1979. Research programs to convert waste rock dumps and tailing ponds to productive forest and rangeland were initiated in 1972.  SOIL COVER STUDIES  Determining Appropriate Cover Configuration  Between 1972 and 1978 the reclamation research program focused on characterizing the chemical and physical properties of mine and mill wastes, determining the suitability of mine and mill waste as growth media, selecting plant species for revegetation of waste rock areas, evaluating lime and fertilizer requirements for establishment of vegetation, and testing spring and fall planting. Growth limiting factors for the various mine and mill wastes were determined to include (Gardiner 1974): 1. Mine waste rock:  extreme to very strong acidity, very slight to strong salinity, plant nutrient deficiencies, potentially toxic concentrations of Mn, Al, and Zn, potential for moisture stress, excessive steepness (39º), and inadequate fines on perimeter slopes; 2. Oxidized siliceous tailings and iron tailings1:  extreme to slight acidity, strong to moderate salinity, plant nutrient deficiencies, potentially toxic concentrations of Mn, Al, and Zn, potential for moisture stress, and high temperature.  Extremely large quantities of liming materials, up to 270 mt CaCO3 per hectare (Gardiner and Rusnell 1980), were required to increase and maintain the pH of oxidized iron tailings within the range tolerated by most plant species.    By 1977 it was evident that it would not be feasible to manipulate iron or siliceous tailings to create conditions that would accommodate adequate plant growth.  Although studies indicated that vegetation would establish on waste rock if it was adequately supplied with lime, maintenance fertilizer, and fines to support plant growth it was clear that results would be variable and species diversity would be limited (Gardiner and Rusnell 1980). In 1977 the first soil cover experiments were initiated the Sullivan Mine including one that used a cover that was similar to the one used in operational activities today. Additional soil cover experiments that tested a variety of soil cover configurations over a variety mill wastes were established up to 1994 and the last research report was prepared in 2000. Table 1 provides a summary of the soil cover experiments that have been established at the Sullivan Mine.                                                        1 Oxidization and hydration of iron sulphide minerals in siliceous and iron tailings cannot be prevented therefore conditions associated with the oxidized state are provided. Vegetation establishment and growth response was relatively consistent throughout the various studies.  In general, 30 cm of growth medium (glacial till) was required to attain acceptable growth of grass dominated plant communities and 60 cm was required to promote an acceptable legume – grass plant community (Gardiner et al. 1983).  Depths beyond 60 cm increased cover values but changes in dry weight production were not significant (Przeczek and Halko 1995).    Table 1.  Summary of the soil cover experiments conducted at the Sullivan Mine. Study #1. Cover Type Mill/Mine Material Growth Medium Thickness (cm) Root Egress Studies SC-1-78 Simple Oxidized Siliceous Tailings 15.0 to 120.0 Yes SC-2-78 Complex (30 cm float rock) Oxidized Iron Tailings 30.0 60.0 120.0 Yes SM-1-78 Simple Waste Rock 7.5 15.0 30.0 No SC-3-80 Complex (Float Rock) Oxidized Iron Tailings 60.0 Yes SC-1-89 Complex (Float Rock) Oxidized Siliceous Tailings 30.0 60.0 90.0 Yes SC-2-89 Complex (Gypsum + Float Rock) Oxidized Iron Tailings 45.0 – 60.0 No SC-3-89 Simple + Complex (Float Rock) Gypsum Tailings 60.0 – 90.0  30.0 No SC-1-93 Complex (Gravels)  Calcine Tailings 30.0 60.0 No SC-2-93 Simple + Complex (Float Rock) Gypsum Tailings 30.0 60.0 No SC-1-94 Simple + Complex (Float Rock) Oxidized Siliceous Tailings Various combinations of layers Yes Notes: 1. SC = Sullivan Concentrator Site   SM = Sullivan Mine Site   First No. = Study No., Second No. = Establishment Year  Soil Development, Root Egress, and Metals Uptake  Tissue studies that were completed as a component of the soil cover studies did not indicate that there were significant problems with the uptake of the metals As, Cd, Pb, and Zn. However, the potential has remained a concern.  In 1995, 1996, and 2000 various complex cover experiments were examined for soil profile development, root development, and translocation and uptake of metals.  Trenches were dug with a backhoe to a depth that exposed the contact with the underlying tailings.  Root systems commonly occupied the available rooting volume and penetrated into or through the underlying float rock capillary barrier. There were no cases where root systems were observed growing into tailings. Vegetation collected from the sample locations were generally within normal levels for vegetation growing on uncontaminated sites (Adriano 1986) and below the maximum tolerable dietary levels for domestic animals (NRC, NAS 1980)2.  Soil development was most pronounced at sites that had been established for 16 and 19 years and was expressed as darkening of the A horizon and changes in soil structure. The data indicates that a float rock capillary barrier is effective in reducing the movement of acids, salts and metals into the growth medium which is consistent with investigations completed in the early 1980’s (Gardiner et al. 1983). Average chemical characteristics of the soil growth media at various intervals above the contact with tailings at two research sites is given in Table 2 and Figure 1 shows the effect of a float rock capillary barrier over iron tailings on the pH and EC (uS/cm) of a glacial till growth medium.  Table 2.  Various soil parameters from two complex soil cover experiments at Cominco Metals Ltd., Kimberley Operations (after Halko and Przeczek 1995, p.119)  Depth from Contact pH E.C. As Cd Pb Zn Pit Location (cm)  μS/cm mg/kg mg/kg mg/kg mg/kg SC-3-80 37.5+ 5.8 0.27 19.1 0.398 93 139  30.0-37.4 6.0 0.33 16.1 0.353 78 128 22.5-29.9 6.2 0.36 15.0 0.298 68 102  15.0-22.4 6.2 0.79 16.1 0.323 69 109 7.5-14.9 6.1 1.24 14.3 0.295 65 105  0-7.4 5.9 1.36 15.7 0.365 80 126         SC-1-89 45+ 7.6 0.93 5.0 0.141 22 43  37.5-44.9 7.8 0.74 4.6 0.140 22 44  30.0-37.4 7.8 0.61 4.5 0.145 22 45  22.5-29.9 7.8 0.62 4.3 0.132 19 40  15.0-22.4 7.7 0.83 4.2 0.139 27 40  7.5-14.9 7.7 1.19 4.1 0.136 23 40  0-7.4 7.7 1.47 4.3 0.203 25 54                                                        2 Vegetation samples were not all collected the year the of the soil excavations. 0123456780.0 - 7.4 7.5 - 14.9 15.0 - 22.4 22.5 - 29.9 30.0 - 36.4 37.0 - 44.9 45.0 - 52.4 52.5 - 59.9 60.0 - 67.4Depth From Underlying Material (cm)pH or EC (uS/cm)pH Iron TailingspH Float RockEC (uS/cm) TailingsEC (uS/cm) Float Figure 1. Effect of a float rock capillary barrier over iron tailings on pH and EC (uS/cm) in a glacial till growth medium at study site SC-2-78 (after Halko et al.1997, p115).  The final complex cover design that is being implemented through the closure plan incorporates a minimum 50 cm float rock capillary barrier and 60 cm of a glacial till growth medium.  The glacial till is compacted when it is installed and the upper 15 – 20 cm is ripped to prepare it as the growth medium for establishing grass – legume plant communities.  This specific design was tested in research study SC-1-94.  WOODY SPECIES SELECTION  Determining the conditions that would promote the successful establishment of trees and shrubs at the Sullivan mine was an integral component of the research program since it began in 1972.  Initial attempts, as with grasses and legumes, focused on modifying mine and mill wastes with a variety of amendments including lime and fertilizer (Gardiner 1974). Initial plantings included native species such as lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) and Douglas-fir (Psuedotsuga menziesii var. glauca) and exotic species such as Arnot Bristly Locust (Robinia hispida var. fertilis) and Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens). Seedling survival was highly variable and plantings were not successful.   Through the mid-70’s and 80’s woody species were often planted at the time of seeding with various grass and legume seed mixes.  Survival was generally poor and there was limited opportunity to determine which tree and shrub species had the greatest potential for use in the reclamation program.  In the fall of 1991 Bob Gardiner established a number of informal species test plots and a formal set of species screening trials were established in the spring of 1992 (Przeczek 1993). Planting in the tailing pond area occurred into established grass and legume plant communities and, although an agricultural ripper was used to reduce moisture competition, survival was unacceptable by the end of the 4th growing season and the plots were abandoned.  However, wolf-willow (Elaeagnus commutata), cottonwood (Populus balsamifera var. trichocarpa), Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), prickly rose (Rosa acicularis), lodgepole pine, and western larch (Larix occidentalis) all showed that they should receive additional testing.  In 1995 and 1996 a new series of species screening trials were established. Vegetation control fabric was installed on existing research sites, one or two growing seasons before planting, to reduce competition from the established vegetation. The fabric was approximately 2 meters wide and it was laid out the length of each specific site.  Re-invasion of the strips by vegetation was relatively rapid (2 – 3 years) and survival on the majority of the sites was low due to moisture competition and physical damage from the grasses and legumes. However, prickly rose, Saskatoon, choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) all showed potential for use in the operational reclamation program.  Another species screening trial was also established in 1995 to test the effectiveness of glacial till islands and corridors to promote the survival and growth of trees and shrubs.  Three 10 x 10 meter islands and two 100 x 3 meter corridors, all approximately 60 cm thick, were created on top of the established vegetation at the #1 Siliceous Pond.  One corridor was oriented North-South, the other was oriented East-West.  Woody species survival after four growing seasons ranged from 46% – 94% on the islands and from 12% - 91% on the corridors.  Prickly rose, wolf-willow, shrubby cinquefoil, Saskatoon, and chokecherry were all considered acceptable species for the operational reclamation program. Western larch, upland willow (Salix spp.), bitterbrush and trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) were determined to have potential for additional testing. The most significant reasons for the improved seedling survival was the elimination of moisture competition for grasses and forbs and the increased rooting volume associated with the islands and corridors, better stock quality, improved seedling handling procedures, and use of local provenances (Przeczek and Erickson 2000).   This general design has been incorporated into the closure plan for the Sullivan Mine. It states that 5% of a tailings pond surface area will be covered with islands and corridors to promote the establishment of woody species. This is an important component of the closure plan for ensuring that a wildlife end land use is realized and that habitat diversity is promoted.  CONCLUSIONS  The closure plan for the Sullivan Mine is in place and operational activities have been ongoing since 1995. More than 1050 hectares of land disturbed by mining operations will be reclaimed to meet end land use objectives.  Successfully achieving this major undertaking is possible, in part, because of over 27 years of active reclamation research. Mr. Bob Gardiner (retired) was directly responsible for the vision, depth, and rigour of the research at the Sullivan Mine and much of the credit for its success lies with him.  LITERATURE CITED  Adriano, D.C. 1986. Trace elements in the terrestrial environment. Springer-Verlag, New York.  Gardiner, R.T. 1974. Mined-land reclamation at Cominco Ltd., Sullivan Operations: progress report 1974. Cominco Ltd. Kimberley, BC. 21pp + appendices.  Gardiner, R.T. and D.K. Rusnell. 1980. Sullivan Mine and concentrator annual reclamation report and proposed program for 1980. Cominco Ltd. Unpublished Report. 13pp + appendices.  Gardiner, R.T., A.L. Burrows, and D.K. Rusnell. 1983. Sullivan Mine and concentrator annual reclamation report for 1982. Cominco Ltd. Report. 20 pp + appendices.  Halko, Robert, John Przeczek and Doug Erickson. 1997. 1996 reclamation research report. Cominco Metals Ltd., Kimberley Operations. Unpublished Report. 151 pp + appendices.  NRC, NAS 1980. Mineral tolerance of domestic animals. National Academy Press, Washington, DC. 577 pp.  Przeczek, John. 1993. 1992 reclamation research report. Cominco Metals Ltd., Kimberley Operations. Unpublished Report. 50 pp + appendices.  Przeczek, John and Robert Halko. 1995. 1994 reclamation research report. Cominco Ltd., Kimberley Operations. Unpublished Report. 100 pp + appendices.  Przeczek, John and Doug Erickson. 2000. 1999 reclamation research report. Cominco Ltd., Kimberley Operations. Unpublished Report. 49 pp + appendices.  

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