In-situ recovery, also known as ISR, is environmentally clean, non-invasive mineral extraction. It aims to remove mineral ore from where it is—hence the name, which means “in the natural or original position.” Traditional mining, which removes large amounts of rock and earth around ores, disturbs the area significantly. Miners typically use ISR for recovering uranium, mining copper, and extracting sodium chloride and other water-soluble salts.
ISR mines have injection and recovery wells built with acid-resistant casings. These wells are cemented from the surface down to the top of the ore zone, penetrating the layer bearing the minerals. Perforations in the casings enable miners to pump acid or carbonate leach into the ore, dissolving it into a solution.
This solution gets pumped through recovery wells surrounded by an active leach area that prevents the leach solution from escaping. The ore-rich material is transferred to a plant for extracting and electrowinning. After the ore is depleted of minerals, the miners seal the wells with cement.
What Are the Benefits of In-Situ Recovery?
The ISR process is clean and minimally invasive. Unlike traditional mines, it does not create unsightly open pits or large amounts of waste. It is also more cost-efficient to use ISR. Since you use less equipment, you need less capital. ISR also prevents accidents and health issues like contaminated dust inhalation among employees. Finally, ISR produces less noise, making on-site communication better and minimizing disruptions to surrounding communities’ activities.
Is In-Situ Recovery Environmentally Safe?
As with any type of mining activity, there are risks to ISR. Still, it is relatively safe; there are strict guidelines for the leaching process, and the wells have a specialized coating that prevents the solution from seeping through.
Uranium operations are also safe. Since the removal of the ore happens underground, its radioactivity stays there as well, releasing minimal amounts of radon and dust contaminants. What’s more, local water often undergoes reverse osmosis after project closures—many companies’ guidelines specify that the water in the area should be usable for the same purposes as before the start of the project.
Note, though, that it isn’t possible to remove all contaminants from the water. Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that leaching solutions could seep into groundwater, which could affect people’s health.
This isn’t news—back in 2021, environmental lawyer Ronnie Hawks wrote a report for the Arizona Water Association comparing the risks and benefits of ISR leaching. According to the report, the main risk is the potential spilling of chemicals and the risk of the solution targeting more than the desired minerals. Proponents of ISR argue that though there are risks to the process, it is still less environmentally harmful than traditional mining, especially if the mine isn’t near a water source or residential area.
In-situ recovery or ISR is a non-invasive mining method gaining traction today. It reduces mine development time, requires lower overhead, and reduces the impact of these activities on the environment. It ensures minimal visual, noise, and dust disturbance, and it reduces greenhouse gas impact. Overall, ISR is a more environmentally conscious method of extracting minerals than open-pit or traditional mining.
Group 11 Technologies is committed to socially responsible mineral extraction. We aim to revolutionize the mining industry by providing a mining method with a net-zero environmental impact. Get in touch with us for more information!