Assessing the Environmental Hazard of Using Seawater for Ore Processing at the Lasail Mine Site in the Sultanate of Oman = Bewertung der Umweltgefahr durch die Nutzung von Meerwasser in der Erzaufbereitung der Lasail Mine im Sultanat Oman

Wanner, Philipp ; Al-Sulaimani, Mohammed ; Waber, Niklaus ; Wanner, Christoph

In: Mine Water and the Environment, 2015, vol. 34, no. 1, p. 59-74

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    The Lasail mining area (Sultanate of Oman) was contaminated by acid mine drainage during the exploitation and processing of local and imported copper ore and the subsequent deposition of sulphide-bearing waste material into an unsealed tailings dump. In this arid environment, the use of seawater in the initial stages of ore processing caused saline contamination of the fresh groundwater downstream of the tailings dump. After detection of the contamination in the 1980s, different source-controlled remediation activities were conducted including a seepage water collection system and, in 2005, surface sealing of the tailings dump using an HDPE-liner to prevent further infiltration of meteoric water. We have been assessing the benefits of the remediation actions undertaken so far. We present chemical and isotopic (δ18O, δ2H, 3H) groundwater data from a long-term survey (8-16years) of the Wadi Suq aquifer along a 28km profile from the tailings dump to the Gulf of Oman. Over this period, most metal concentrations in the Wadi Suq groundwater decreased below detection limits. In addition, in the first boreholes downstream of the tailings pond, the salinity contamination has decreased by 30% since 2005. This decrease appears to be related to the surface coverage of the tailings pond, which reduces flushing of the tailings by the sporadic, but commonly heavy, precipitation events. Despite generally low metal concentrations and the decreased salinity, groundwater quality still does not meet the WHO drinking water guidelines in more than 90% of the Wadi Suq aquifer area. The observations show that under arid conditions, use of seawater for ore processing or any other industrial activity has the potential to contaminate aquifers for decades.