Challenges and solutions
Hayden Von Blerk – Hayden@bluestream.co.za.
Over many decades large volumes of hydrocarbon materials have gone down into mines.
As man goes to greater depths to claim the earth’s riches, more and more lubricants and fuel follow.
Grease and oils are used daily to keep operations going. They help in making machinery and steel ropes safe and in extending their operating life..Thousands of litres of oil and grease go down into the mine and very little, if any, used oil or grease comes out of the mine. Getting leaking machinery out of the mine is a heavy chore so machines stay down working as long as possible, contaminating the environment more and more.
Although an environmental travesty, we accept this practice while the mine is operating, because water levels are monitored and held to allow mining operations to continue safely. Visible oil in tunnels and walkways are covered with fresh soil to prevent accidents. Unfortunately, water contaminated with hydrocarbons inevitably finds its way into man made underground lakes or dams for reuse. Often, when the oil content of these water gathering areas becomes too contaminated, further problems ensue, not only for the environment, but in some cases the dirty water affects the ore extraction process itself. The very reason for the mines existence!
Let’s consider what happens when the mine shuts down its operation. In many instances the mine slowly fills with water, the water comes into contact with hydrocarbon-contaminated soils on road- ways and workshops,and the whole body of water then becomes contaminated and unfit for human and animal use. Often, lower aquifers (now contaminated with oil and grease) come in contact with upper aquifers, previously protected by impermeable rock or clay lenses, now removed through mining operations. The ground above becomes dead, farmer’s orchards and crops start to die off, both unseen and visible plant and animal life suffers, and once-fertile ground becomes barren.
One could ask “is there hope for the future? Something to mitigate the damage done and over time reverse the damaged environment?” The answer is yes, there is.
To fix an environmental problem, it is always best to start at the source of the problem.
Various specialised greases, lubricating oils and fuels are required in the mining operation and therefore need to be used. Preventing the use of hydrocarbons would be ideal, but impractical to say the least.Using an environmentally friendly, readily biodegradable degreaser to clean vehicles, equipment and workshops right where oil is spilt would seem the way to go. However, the problem is that when the oil is flushed away the heavy oil collects where the water collects. If the oil volume is too much, free oil on the water and emulsified oil in the water will remain. Back to square one!
Something is needed to consume the oil without affecting the recycling of the water for reuse.
Using oil specific microbes is a viable solution to our problem
For cleaning and remediation on site, a pH neutral, environmentally harmless degreaser that has been enriched with oil consuming microbes is ideal. Using this product gets as close to the source of the problem as possible, right where the degreasing and cleaning takes place, allowing close contact with the contamination.
This close contact with the contamination stays intact as the microbes follow the contamination (their food source) all the way to the water gathering point (dam), and continue to operate there.
Using a microbe enriched degreaser starts a remediation process that works its way through the mine. Microbes enjoy the damp conditions found in the mines. Because microbes at some stage plateau out as food sources dry up, using the correct degreaser (as opposed to a solvent or other harsh chemical) on a regular basis will reactivate the vegetative microbes giving them a kick start, so to speak.