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Why and how are super massive construction projects like waste rock dumps and tailings storage facilities a particular and unique challenge when considered as a civil engineering project?
Mining projects are engineering construction projects with a scale like no other, they could aptly be called "giga projects" as the mass of materials involved can be in the billions of tonnes.
The scale of the construction, the nature of the industry, and a host of site specific factors offer number of unique and difficult civil engineering challenges. Several high profile cases of failures of these large structures in recent years have highlighted the significance of engineering challenges.
There are a number of engineering facets to these "giga" structures that require specific consideration from an engineering basis including control of erosion, seepage and stability, along with significant environmental and social considerations like acid and metalliferous drainage.
Compared to typical civil engineering projects the most significant challenges to address include a practical one of sheer scale; how to construct structures with a footprint the size of a small city, and from a temporal viewpoint challenges are significant as timescales of construction can be 20-30 years for a given structure and mines sites can operate over 50 years or longer.
The most significant and overriding challenge however is how to maintain the social licence to build, operate and close these structures. Designing for mine closure in this context requires consideration of timescales of hundreds to thousands of years.
Steven Pearce is the director of O'Kane Consultants UK operation and a Senior Environmental Engineer.
Steven's professional and academic field of expertise is principally in environmental engineering and risk management, with specialisations in quantitative risk assessment, acid and metalliferous drainage assessments, unsaturated zone hydrology, mine closure and rehabilitation, waste rock dump and tailings storage dam design and management, applied geochemistry, groundwater modelling and geotechnics.
Steven's current areas of research and development include, instrumentation and telemetry systems for monitoring mining structures such as tailings dams, field testing technologies and mobile laboratories and large scale geochemistry testwork. Steven has authored over 15 technical papers that have been published in international journals and regularly presents at international mining conferences.
Steven has international experience having worked on large projects in the United Kingdom, Indonesia, the Philippines, Africa, Mexico, Canada, Spain, Montenegro, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia.