Antamina, in Peru, is the largest open-pit copper-zinc mine in the world - photo courtesy of Danny Bay
UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 9 | Sep. 12, 2006
On Top of the World: Dealing with Mining Challenges
It has already been six weeks since I arrived here at the Antamina mine in Peru. The region is so beautiful. The mine is set in the Andes Mountains, over 4,000 metres above sea level. People from all over the world are attracted to a nearby area due to the spectacular scenery of a breathtaking, snow–capped mountain range.
I don’t get to spend time being a tourist here because the project at the mine is very intense. When I arrived here I joined Juan Carlos Corazao, a graduate student from UBC’s Dept. of Mining Engineering, who has been here since January. He came here with a post–doctoral student, Colin Fyffe, who worked on the project for the first three months. They’ve worked very hard on the project.
I know you don’t know much about what I’m doing, so I’ll try to explain it. Essentially, mines extract ore that is processed into metals. The ore is surrounded by other rocks that have no economic value. This is what we call waste rock. The waste rock is separated from the ore and dumped in giant waste rock piles. Once waste rock is extracted and exposed to the air and precipitation, several chemical reactions can occur that can cause environmental problems, especially to water.
Antamina is the largest open-pit copper-zinc mine in the world, and has to deal with many environmental challenges. The project that we’re working on is a collaboration between professors Roger Beckie, Uli Mayer and Leslie Smith of the Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and Bern Klein and Ward Wilson from the Dept. of Mining Engineering. Our project consists of building an experimental waste rock pile that weighs approximately 25,000 tonnes, and is modeled after the giant waste rock piles found in the mine.
During construction of the pile, more than 130 sensors and sampling devices were placed. All devices are linked to an instrumentation hut, where the data will be collected and later analyzed. We hope to identify and understand processes that control the release and transport of potentially hazardous elements that seep out from the pile and into the environment. The Antamina mine can then use this information to implement the best environmental management practices for its operations and subsequent closure.
The mine encourages employment of people from surrounding communities. In general, the local people are poor and live in small adobe (mud) buildings that are typically without the amenities that we are so accustomed to in Canada, such as electricity and access to potable water. The Antamina mine is working with the local communities to solve some of these problems.
Throughout the construction of the project, most of the people we have worked with have come from the surrounding communities. They are generally very friendly (as we recently discovered when we were invited to a nearby community for a typical Andes meal of guinea pig and boiled potato) and always want to learn more, especially from people with different backgrounds. Quite often they enjoy contributing to the project not just with their labour, but with new ideas to accomplish tasks.
I learned a lot in the last few months here. As this was my first time at a mine, I got to observe how the workings of the mine are driven by economics. In addition, being in a South American country, I had little choice but to learn the language in order to express myself, share thoughts and ideas about the project, and to exchange dialogue about our cultural differences.
Juan Carlos and I saw first hand how fieldwork and the theory we learned in classes can be applied together in the real world. We experienced how design, construction, instrumentation, field tests, communication, project management and the ability to meet and solve technical and other challenges are all important in the completion of a project of this magnitude.
From: Master’s student Danny Bay
Andes Mountains, Peru, 4,000 metres above sea level
Graduate Earth and Ocean Sciences student Danny Bay, of Toronto, ON, writes about mining challenges in the Andes where he is working on research for his thesis with fellow UBC Mining Engineering student Juan Carlos Corazao of Cusco, Peru.