THE MASSIVE 46 STORY TALL STRUCTURE: The Penasquito Mine Tailings Dam

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by Steve St. Angelo, SRSRocco Report:

The colossal Penasquito Mine’s tailings dam will reach a stunning height of a 46 story skyscraper over the next decade.  That is, if the mine reopens and is allowed to continue business as usual.  Newmont-Goldcorp suspended operations at Mexico’s second largest silver mine on April 29th, due to a blockade stemming from issues with the local community in regards to water supply concerns and problems with a trucking contractor.

Last year, the Penasquito Mine produced 272,000 oz of gold and over 18 million oz of silver.  However, it plans on producing over 5 million oz of gold and 400+ million oz of silver over the next decade.

After I published my article, MORE TROUBLE IN MEXICO: Second Largest Silver Mine Suspended Operations, I did some research on Penasquito’s tailings dam, and when I saw a photo of the dam, I was literally shocked by its massive size.  I never really gave it much thought about where all the waste ended up after the processing of ore was finished.  It’s a typical problem we all deal with today, OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND.

Let me start by saying that the tailings dam is so large; it surpasses the size of the Penasquito open-pit mine itself. For clarification, the tailings dam (or ponds) are used to store the processed waste slurry after the metals have been extracted.  Here is a layout of the Penasquito Mining Operation:

(image courtesy of Goldcorp 2018 Tailings & Mine Waste Conference PDF report)

As you can see, the tailings dam is 4 kilometers long compared to the Penasquito open-pit mine, which is about half its size.  However, this layout doesn’t give the epic scale of the tailings dam justice.  According to the images in Goldcorp’s 2018 Tailings & Mine Waste Conference PDF, and data from the company’s Feb 2019 Penasquito Mine Tour Presentation, the tailings dam is currently 85 meters tall, or nearly 280 feet in height:

(courtesy of Goldcorp 2018 Tailings & Mine Waste Conference PDF Report)

To give you an idea of the enormous size of Penasquito’s tailings dam, the red circle shows just how small the large Komatsu 930E haul truck is next to the dam. The Komatsu 930E haul truck, which Penasquito has 85 currently in its fleet, is 24 feet tall and can move 320 tons of ore, rock or sand in a single trip.

(photo courtesy of Canadian Mining & Energy)

So, can you imagine the astronomical number of truckloads that it has taken to build up Penasquito’s tailings dam to 280 feet??  Here is another picture of the tailings dam with four haul trucks on the mid-level access road.

(courtesy of Goldcorp 2018 Tailings & Mine Waste Conference PDF Report)

Because Penasquito’s Mining Operation can process upwards of 130,000 metric tons of ore per day, it doesn’t take long to fill the volume held in the tailings dam.  According to the data in the reports and presentation listed above, the tailings dam at Penasquito will rise approximately five meters, or 16-17 feet per year. The ultimate height of the tailings dam by 2029 will reach 142 meters, or a stunning 462 feet.

That is an amazing monumental man-made structure just to hold the toxic waste from a low-grade gold-silver mine.  I have one more picture to provide another view of one of the sides of the tailing dam with two pieces of earth moving equipment:

(courtesy of Goldcorp 2018 Tailings & Mine Waste Conference PDF Report)

The engineers and workers are adding another layer of rock as a foundation to be able to increase the height of the tailings dam.  When I searched “tailings dam” on Google, Wikipedia states that the largest tailings dam in the world is at the Syncrude oil sands in Alberta, Canada.  Wikipedia claims that the height of the Syncrude tailings dam is 133-288 feet tall and is 12 kilometers long (entire perimeter):

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

The data for the Syncrude tailings dam is from 2001.  I tried to find updated information, but couldn’t.  However, the Penasquito tailings dam is also 12 kilometers around and is presently 280 feet tall.  But, as I mentioned, it’s ultimate height will be 142 meters or 462 feet.  Just how big is a 462-foot tailings dam?  Well, here are a few buildings and iconic structures as a source of comparison:

As we can see from the chart above, the Penasquito tailings dam height of 462 feet (by 2029) will be much higher than the Disney Magic Kingdom Castle (189 feet), the Statue of Liberty (305 feet) and the mighty Saturn V Rocket (363 feet). If we can image a 50-story high-rise building of 500 feet, the Penasquito tailings dam would be only 4 stories less.

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