Sea-change in Groundwater Control, Safety, ProductivityBy Andrea Villar | Mon, 05/04/2020 - 17:03
Q: How does your company’s wellpoint solutions benefit the mining industry?
A: Wellpoint is a solution for groundwater control. It pumps out water from aquifers to dry out predefined areas of land. This system is basically a pump with a large vacuum capacity. The pump is connected to a pipe that goes into the subsoil. Water is sucked out and dry conditions are secured. Developed in the Netherlands, where dredging is essential for generating dry land for construction in below-sea-level circumstances, wellpoint’s potential was eventually adapted to the mining sector.
One of the main problems in underground mine development is the presence of water in the subsoil. Water makes earth heavier and harder to haul. It clogs equipment with mud. It also produces malfunctions because the pH levels in underground water interfere with conventional pumping systems. Therefore, the presence of water makes developing projects more complicated, time-consuming and costly. Instead of being able to focus on extracting minerals, miners end up spending time and energy on acquiring and maintaining pumping systems. This is a suboptimal use of resources.
Through its wellpoint solutions, Agua y Energía en Movimiento is able to deliver completely dry soil conditions. We study soil mechanics and determine the exact location and extent of aquifers. We do this with magnetic probes and drilling samples. Also, mines usually conduct a thorough analysis of soil mechanics. We work together, and in about a month our technicians are able to start drilling at the appropriate places and pumping out the water. We define a perimeter of land that must be dry and then make sure that all underground reserves that may flow into the perimeter are emptied out.
Q: What savings can this technology generate?
A: The most immediate saving that has been reported is in land hauling. Because it is considerably lighter than moist soil, moving dry earth is much cheaper in terms of fuel and logistics. Once the mine is operating, savings are generated by the creation of a reliable workflow. This means miners can extract ore continuously and not have to stop operations to fight against water. Furthermore, wellpoint enhances security immensely, as the possibility of miners being trapped in an underground flood is eliminated.
Our solutions also enhance the sustainability of a project. Wellpoint is more energy-efficient than standard diesel-powered electric pumps. The latter can consume up to 25 gallons of diesel per hour. Reducing diesel use not only cuts costs, but is also environmentally responsible.
Q: Are your services also relevant to open-pit mines?
A: Our solutions work best if they are incorporated into the open-pit project right from the beginning. More wellpoint pumps have to be included than in an underground project, but the principle is the same. If the pit is very large, multiple submersible pumps are installed in very deep perforations of up to 140 meters. In addition to easier hauling conditions, our solutions help open-pit miners during the rainy season, when production tends to fall considerably because water makes conditions very tough. With a Wellpoint system in place, the subsoil’s absorption capacity is improved, and the amount of surface water is decreased significantly. As water trickles underground, we pump it out with wellpoint. The money that is usually destined to surface pumps, which are costly, is greatly reduced.
We are already working on a project with Arcelor Mittal that consists of 45 deep wells. They had recognized the benefits of our system in other parts of the world. They looked for a supplier in Mexico and found us. I believe wellpoint solutions are a turning point for the mining industry.
Q: What do you do with the groundwater you extract?
A: Underground water deposits cannot be decompensated, as they form part of a delicate ecosystem of subterranean rivers and lakes. For this reason, we define the widest perimeter of dry land that the project requires. We then replenish the water to aquifers located outside that perimeter. We have the ability to control the water levels in the soil within the perimeter, while making sure that everything around it remains as before. We make sure to reinject the water to a capacity greater than that of the absorption ground; thus, the aquifers of all the surrounding areas will always be full.
This is important not only from an environmental perspective. If underground water systems are not manipulated carefully, constructions such as houses and roads can be undermined, potentially leading to safety issues and legal processes. Additionally, it is crucial that the mine does not diminish the water reserves of adjoining communities. Doing so may fuel social discord and discredit the project’s social license to operate.
Agua y Energía en Movimiento is a Mexican company founded in 2010 with the purpose of providing the best technology in solutions for the movement and control of large quantities of water in the construction, mining, petrochemical and governmental sectors.