WATER scarcity affects more than one in six people around the world.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the mining industry accounted for 4 per cent, or 489 gigalitres, of water consumption by industry in 2009; with metal ore mining the largest consumer at 298GL.
The 2013 AusIMM Water in Mining Conference will address the management of this precious resource, during two days in Brisbane from 26 November.
The conference will feature a three-day technical program, presenting more than 50 papers, as well as a trade exhibition, several workshops and multiple networking opportunities. Conference chair Professor Chris
Moran said the event’s goal was to provide a platform for open and engaging discussion and collaboration between industry experts.
“The idea was to try to bring together the various issues that people were facing around water and mining and see if they could be organised in a chronological fashion,” he said.
“At that stage, water management was beginning to be seen as an issue but there was no clear, coherent form to it.
“It’s not so much a technology type of conference; this conference is much more about the dialogue between those who are managing the water and those who are doing applied research around it.
“So rather than technology breakthroughs, this is much more about ways to go about doing things differently and ways of understanding interactions between things people have to manage.”
This year’s conference will be the fourth since inception in 2003. It has traditionally been held in Brisbane, with the exception of 2009 when it was held in Perth.
“In 2009 we took the conference to Perth because WA obviously has a significant set of issues with water in mining. We found the people in WA to be good travellers to Brisbane and so we moved it there.
The conference was just as successful,” Professor Moran said.
The 2013 conference will focus on regional contexts: how the management of mining and water associated with mining fits in with a region, in relation to upstream and downstream activities. Each conference has had about 200 attendees and a similar number is expected this year. Professor Moran said there were no long term aspirations to change the format of the conference.
“We do like to keep the intimacy so people at the conference feel as though they are participating properly in the dialogue in the panel sessions, in raising the important issues and having opportunities to interact with one another over significant site level and strategic corporate water issues,” he said.
“If the conference gets larger then you start to change the nature of the event – from a group coming together to discuss issues and bring the main themes to one another – to something more formal in a standard deliver mode. We’ve got a reasonable balance at the moment.
“There aren’t many small conferences that are held by non-profit organisations to do with issues around water and mining and coal seam gas, and we want to make sure we can be differentiated from those profit-making ventures.”
With many controversial issues surrounding the use of water – such as lead and uranium contamination and hydraulic fracturing – the conference was a must for the industry, Professor Moran said.
The connection between energy and water would be another focus of the conference, he said.
“Moving water obviously requires a lot of energy — as we reduce the amount of water we use in a mining system, we increase the amount of load that we bear and increase the friction factor…it’s why water is used; water is a very good way to move solids,” he said.
“As you reduce the amount of water in the system you can have energy trade-offs.” Dust suppression, ore tailings and growing vegetation to offset emissions account for substantial water consumption in the industry.
“For example, if you wish to thicken tailings and increase the density of tailings to use less water – which is the main flow of water on a mine site – then you increase the pump demands and change infrastructure demands to do that,” he said.
“Also, a company could use various technologies and strategies for road watering that may reduce the amount of diesel you need because, in general, trucks will be moving less than they were before.
“If you move into water treatment and you want to reduce the amount of water you take from fresh water systems then you’ll have an energy implication there as well, as the water treatment plant uses energy.”
The potential environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing would also be covered.
“When you think of a mine in general, it has a significant footprint in a small area – particularly when there’s open cut excavation,” Professor Moran said.
“With coal seam gas you have somewhat of a ‘millipede effect’, where lots of small footprints over a very large area and the effect on the ground water systems are different.
“We’ll be exploring those interaction issues as well and try to come to a better understanding of how those activities affect the overall water systems in those landscapes.
“The other area in the general sense of connecting things together is the management of water and salt and other waste materials or water constituents.”
Reusing water also presents issues, as the process often increases salinity, with accidental runoff posing a serious risk to surrounding areas.
“There’s been a lot of issues with salt movement in places like the Bowen Basin with a lot of water moving through mines and falling into pits…water that is associated with coal seam gas is salty,”
he said.
“So there is a general set of discussions to be had around the best management of salty water and ways to manage brine and other constituents of the water, as a result of treatment and concentration of the water through evaporation.”
People involved in all forms of water management are encouraged to attend, including academics, government, engineering and environmental consultants.
Before the conference officially begins, there would be an opportunity for delegates to go on a field trip to see coal mining and CSG operations in the Bowen Basin, and talk to those involved to gain further insight into the region.
The conference will begin with a panel session, featuring a keynote presentation from National Water Commission chair Karlene Maywald – who will discuss national water issues in the mining industry – and Independent Expert Scientific Panel on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Developments chair Lisa Corbyn.
The panel will provide an opportunity for attendees to raise issues and explore topics such as how to ensure that water management remains a priority for companies despite the current contraction in the industry.
The second day will feature a number of themes, including a presentation from GQC vice president Jeff Jurinak who will discuss regional water management and the impact of CSG. Water measurementand monitoring systems would also be covered.
The conference will end with a feedback session, where attendees can discuss the value of the event’s content and its practical use in the workplace.
After the conference there will be a number of workshops on the formal aspects of water management including aquifer interactions, water monitoring, water balances and accounting.
Professor Moran said a group from the International Mining for Development Centre would address the conference and comprised emerging legislators, academics and managers from all around the world.
The group would also conduct a follow up workshop after the conference, to discuss the water policies and regulations for developing countries, he said. “I think the other thing is the
importance of companies and individuals focussing on professional development and knowledge and the ability to improve productivity by participating in this kind of event,” he said.
“It’s a very easy thing to cut out of a budget…but it’s also a highly cost-effective manner for people to network with one another and learn how to deal with the circumstances they find themselves in under a cost-cutting regime.”