Water Journal : Water Journal April 2013
43 Feature Article APRIL 2013 WATER As the Australian mining industry continues to face new economic challenges, the need for increased ef ciencies has arguably never been so great. Escalating costs and decreasing commodity prices are pushing innovative mining companies in new directions to lower production costs and reduce downtime. With many mines in Australia located in arid areas, water can be a dif cult and costly resource to manage. Yet water is essential to almost all mining operations and is used for a multitude of purposes including processing of ore, dust suppression and potable water supply. The management of water resources on a mine site typically involves all aspects of water management, including catchment/ production, treatment, storage and delivery. Sourcing and supplying water in an arid environment is a challenge in itself, but the production pressures of a mine site and costs associated with lost production time add even greater demands. In an effort to lower costs, save water and reduce environmental impact, many mine sites across Australia are now utilising commercial divers to service and maintain underwater assets. The concept of utilising divers on mine sites is not a new one and has been around for over 25 years. However, more recently, mine diving has expanded and over the past ve years has been integrated into many larger mining operations. WATER MANAGEMENT: A PRIORITY Water has a high value in the mining industry, not only due to the high cost of sourcing and managing the resource, but also because a supply interruption often has the ability to stop production. Increasingly, water also has signi cant environmental importance on a mine site, as sustainable management principles have become a standard of the Australian mining industry. It seems logical that water management should be a primary operational priority for all mining companies, given the signi cant investment in water management and the risks that poor management can pose to production continuity. Commercial divers have been used in the mining industry from many years to perform tasks such as potable water maintenance, reservoir cleaning, anode maintenance and salvage of equipment. In more recent years, the scope of the diving services has widened to focus heavily on inspection and servicing of underwater assets while they are online, in an effort to prevent supply interruption. Recent advances in underwater non- destructive testing (NDT) equipment, coupled with the availability of formal NDT courses for commercial divers, means that many assets that previously needed to be inspected dry can now be serviced by divers. Similarly, reservoirs and tanks that may have once been drained for cleaning, inspection, servicing or leak detection, are increasingly being done while still operational, resulting in zero downtime. Antony Old from Fremantle Commercial Diving in Western Australia has been involved in mine diving operations for many years, and attributes the recent expansion of mine site diving to the ongoing demand for ef ciency in the mining sector. "In recent years we have seen a shift in the type of services we are being asked to deliver," he says. "The demand is increasingly coming from larger mining companies, focused on delivering better environmental outcomes or reducing asset downtime. We are working with larger companies to put long-term safety and asset design strategies in place, so that assets can be dived on-line, with no supply interruption." DIVING WITH A DIFFERENCE Commercial diving has been used in the mining sector for many years, but demand by industry has resulted in enhanced services that result in more sustainable outcomes.
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