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Dust Explosions

We recently published an article on the dangers of dust and that dust can, in fact, cause explosions.  Here is a little video showing an experiment – dust in the form of flour shown to combust.

This information from – Robovent

“Dust explosions occur when combustible dusts build up in the air and combust rapidly, causing a strong pressure wave to form. They are a deadly hazard in a variety of workplaces, from grain silos to plastics factories. A dust explosion requires several factors to be present at once. These include:

A combustible dust at the right concentration level
Oxygen
An enclosed space
An ignition source

Sometimes these factors are combined into a graphic known as the “Dust Explosion Pentagon.” The component in this graphic called “dispersion” is also known as concentration. If a concentration of dust is too low, there is not enough of it present to fuel an explosion. If the concentration is too high, there is not enough oxygen to support combustion.

Dust Fire and Explosion Pentagon - Dust Explosions

While some combustible dusts are easy to guess—wood and paper dust, for example—others aren’t, such as aluminum dust. Combustible dusts become more dangerous as particulates become finer. These dusts feature a high ratio of surface area to volume, adding to their combustibility. When these dusts combine with oxygen within a range of concentrations, a dust explosion is possible.

In these conditions, all that is needed for an explosion is an ignition source. This source can be anything from a cigarette to a spark to an overheated wheel bearing. Under the right conditions, some combustible dusts can self-ignite as a result of static that builds up as particulates rub against one another. The ignition causes the dust to combust quickly—a process called deflagration that creates a wave of high air pressure. Sometimes this explosion can stir dust that has settled in the space, creating a cloud of new dust—a fuel source for an enormous secondary explosion. A dust explosion can blow out walls in a facility and kill or injure workers within the space or nearby.”

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Why Dust in Monitored

Why Dust is Monitored

Industrial dust can explode.  These occur when a large build up of combustible dust is dispersed into the air and then explode if provided with an ignition source.  Immense damage and loss of life can follow. (See video – https://www.csb.gov/csb-releases-new-safety-video-inferno-dust-explosion-at-imperial-sugar/)

Other dangers that industrial dust pose are lung diseases caused by the inhalation and retention of dust in the lungs. Coal miners especially are exposed to many kinds of dusts including silica. Tiny particles of coal dust are retained in the alveoli – they are surrounded by macrophages but, eventually, the system is overwhelmed and an immune response follows.

It is impossible to prevent all industrial dust diseases but they can be reduced by various safety precautions, such as adequate ventilation, keeping down dust levels and wearing of facemasks.

An extremely important factor in prevention of dust related problems is the monitoring of dust using specially engineered equipment. Dust monitoring equipment assist industry and agriculture in detecting harmful levels of toxic dust which in turn allows the problem to be engineered away.

Dust not only causes health and safety problems but can also cost industry money in terms of equipment maintenance and production. See the extract below from the website http://www.dust-monitoring-equipment.com/services/dustdesign.htm  : “We have successfully removed fish scales from marine diamond deposits with specialized dust control equipment.   The fish scales were not actually a dust problem but they did interfere with the optics used to separate diamonds. This is similar to the problem where we had to de-fluff diamond concentrates from underground mining operations, where a slurry explosive is pre-packed in plastic bags. The slivers of plastic fluoresced in the same way that diamonds fluoresce and needed to be removed from the process.”

In general finer suspended dust remains airborne almost indefinitely due to air currents and thermal activities on any given day, even if there is no wind at all. The unit that we use to capture this dust is the DustWatch, designed and patented in South Africa by Gerry Kuhn Environmental and Hygiene Engineering.

The use of fall-out monitoring yields a large amount of information, allowing a far greater and effective study to be undertaken than any other single sampling method. If used in combination with PM10 or total particulate dust sampling, results can be very conclusive.

Why Dust in Monitored - Dust Bucket - Fallout dust monitoring - DustWatch

Why dust is monitored

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Dust Defined

Dust Defined – The following information comes from one of our own articles.  What exactly is dust?  Take a look below – for the full article please follow the link – http://dust-monitoring-equipment.com/training-presentation-dust-is-not-dust.htm

Dust Defined

As dust is fine solids or, in some cases liquids, there needs to be a system of measuring the particulate size and then to categorise the various dusts by size to see to what extent the dust is ingested.

The particulate can be measured by various means but within the metric system of measurements, we use the term micrometer or micron, which is an exceedingly small measurement of one-one thousandth of the millimetre.  The human eye will only see a profusion of dust in the air under certain conditions – predominantly if one is viewing the plume of dust against a blue sky against the light.  This presumes of course, that the dust concerned has a low reflective index and the colour has the greatest contrast with the sky colour as possible.

A lime dust plume is far more visible than cement, which is grey – less of a contrast against the sky’s blue.  Similarly, coal dust will be visible against the sky, whereas a light grey roadway dust will be less visible.

 

Any existence of moisture within the emission will also increase the dust visibility:-

 

* By physically wetting the particle, which then may become darker in colour.
* By condensing and adding a visible dimension to the plume.  Most observers will comment on how bad a dust plume looks when they are in fact seeing steam or water vapour, which they presume is white smoke rather than what it is – water vapour.  As a rule of thumb, watch such a plume and if it suddenly starts to disappear, then you are seeing water vapour.  What remains in the air is dust and this may just be visible at a distance further than the vapour plume extremity.

 

Dust of differing size particulate has a system of descriptive classification, which, while rather subjective, does put a lot of light on the matter and enables us to obtain a good idea of the particle size range applicable for each category.

 

The following diagram 1, of which there are many examples with slight variations, is most handy to convey the concept of particulate sizing within each category by definition.

 

TABLE 01 – DESCRIPTIVE CLASSIFICATIONS FOR DUSTS

 

As soon as one starts to view the various dust sizes, further classification by various agencies come into the picture due to the need to monitor for health purposes or for other reasons.

 

Occupationally, in South Africa we need to be aware that there are categories for:

 

* Respirable dust
* Thoracic dust
* Inhaleable dust
* Nuisance dust.

 

While the last description may not be that official it is used by all and sundry as a “one size fits all” approach, as we all hate dust with one or two exceptions – “Gold Dust” or perhaps “Diamond Dust”.  To define any dust one needs to specify the dust particulate size range not withstanding the reasonably hard and fast definitions outlined above.  The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), now considered to be one of the foremost authorities on industrial hygiene and contrary to its name, is a private not-for-profit non-governmental corporation, whose members are industrial and occupational hygienists and other safety and health professionals dedicated to the promotion of health, safety and health safety in the workplace, has established the indicated classifications based on the following criteria:-

 

INHALABLE DUST/PARTICULATE THORACIC DUST/PARTICULATE RESPIRABLE DUST/PARTICULATE
SIZE DISTRIBUTION Aerodynamic diameter (d) Mass % Aerodynamic diameter (d) Mass % Aerodynamic diameter (d) Mass %
0

1

2

5

10

20

30

40

50

100

100

97

94

87

77

65

58

54,5

52,5

50

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16

18

20

25

100

94

89

80,5

67

50

35

23

15

9,5

6

2

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

 

10

100

97

91

74

50

30

17

79

5

 

1

DEFINED SIZE d0,50 = 100µm d0,50 = 10µm d0,50 = 4µm

 

DIAGRAM 01 – DEFINED DUST

 

The term or definition of total dust is “airborne material sampled with the 37mm closed face cassette traditionally used for aerosol sampling”.  The term will ultimately need to be replaced occupationally by one of the above descriptions.  Research using cassettes has broadly indicated  it is scandalous that we still ‘assume’ this total dust is a risk or not after over 40 years.  It can be ingested.

 

We point out that the three categories of particulate size sampling are achieved using the new ISO/CEN/ACGIH curve cyclone with a flow rate of 2,208 litres/min (say 2,2 litres/min).  The previous BMRC curve cyclones were operated at a flow rate of 1,890 litres/min (say 1,9 litres/min).

 

During the initial stages of the swap-over to ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclones, we noted that paired rigs yielded a d0,50 cut off of 4,00µm for the BRMC and 5,0µm for the latter.  This was largely due to the differing flow rates and if the ISO/CEN/ACGIH was operated at 1,9 litres/min then a value closer to the BRMC 4,00µm was achieved.  So why increase the flow rate?  Research has now found larger particulate trapped in lung tissue.

 

The above information is handy for occupational hygienists to determine PM10 levels using ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclones and 37mm cassettes and monitoring for environmental purposes.

 

When using the cassette without the cyclone at 1,90 litres/min, one achieves a PM10 result, but to improve the distribution of dust on to the filter, the distance between the cassette entrance hole and filter needs to be increased so a more lamina distribution can be achieved as well as a more consistent loading of the filter.  Any material entering and remaining loosely in the bottom of the cassettes must not be retained in the sample as this will be average oversize and considerably so.

 

It is possible to take a larger cut-off at perhaps d0,50 – 20µm, 30µm or even 50µm, but if we bear in mind that the limiting factor after 2,0 litres/min becomes the cassette opening, which needs to be drilled out to 6mm for 20µm and 30µm and to 10mm for 50µm dust, then one is sacrificing cassettes.  The flow rates also become increasingly critical the larger particulate we wish to capture and one then needs to consider the density of the dust material to arrive at a flow rate.

 

HOW DOES PRECIPITANT DUST FIT INTO THE EQUATION?

 

Well, to start off, we need to go back and notice how we accepted the particulate sizing and flow rates so easily and assumed that these are finite, cut and dried and cast in stone as it were!!!

 

No, life is never that simple and air density played a massive role in the amount of air that our gravimetric sampler was handling, and in fact the altitude will also have played a massive role, as well as barometric pressure, so at the end of the day, how accurate are those Respirable, Thoracic or Inhalable dust samples, and while we are at it, how accurate is your high volume constant flow sampler determining PM10 sample results?  It has become question after question with fewer and fewer answers being available, which means that the environmental auditors who check your reports will only specify and check that your methodology was to regulation or method.  Where has reality gone?  Dust is not dust, is not dust, or is it?

 

While we are on Question Time, let us select a few more to look at:-

 

* If your PM10 or gravimetric sampling rig sampler is operating to spec and the dust is mainly organic, are you over reading or under reading?  Does Durban and Johannesburg make a difference?
* The same question needs to be asked for gravimetric sampling, but let us add common pollutants to make the answer more difficult.  If your gravimetric sampler and ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclone and cassette are running at 2,2 litres/min with cellulose wood fibre dust and coal dust, will the results be the same and will both be representative bearing in mind that the density of wood fibre could be as low as 20 kg/m3, while the coal dust will have a density of over 2 ton/m3?  I have used bulk density and not material density.  Is this correct?

 

Having questioned convention surrounding capturing the airborne dust for your sample, let us look at how the dust is scavenged or collected.

 

The inlet on an ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclone is exceedingly small and is directional and far too many assumptions are made around the acceptance of accuracy.

 

We need to be aware of directional airflow in the sampling area or over the sampling rig and this airflow needs to be stabilised before we can assume that the result is correct.  The bell or impactor on a PM10 or PM2,5 rig can scavenge windblown dust and affect the dynamics of collection to the point where accuracy is affected in the same way as the cyclone rig, so we need to ask what we are sampling for and work within the limitation of the equipment we are using.

 

Finally, the cost of equipment and the labour needed to run sampling exercises, means that we try to minimise the number of samples that are taken as well as the position and we erroneously assume that these are representative.

 

* Sampling in one or two positions is not representative of conditions on a plant, surrounding a property, in a township or industrial area.
* Sampling on one or two days, a week or even a month is as inaccurate as a total guess when viewing permanent conditions.
* Most analysis methods demand samples of substance, more than the couple of micrograms collected in a PM10 or gravimetric dust sample with the result that inaccuracies of scale are being accepted.

 

To illustrate this, the City of Cape Town has about seven permanent monitoring stations around the Peninsula, which run at best erratically and often not at all and the results are accepted without question.

 

On mines, the dust levels come down all the time but silicosis cases increase – there is something wrong.  There are many cases out there with persons never having worked at a mine or lived near one.

 

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

 

Happy New Year 2021

Happy New Year 2021

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  We trust that 2021 will be year of great growth and prosperity and most of all…. health!

From all of us at DustWatch / Dust Monitoring Equipment

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Merry Christmas 2020

Merry Christmas 2020

It has been a difficult year.  Take tomorrow to reconnect with family and friends. Be thankful for all that we have made it through!

Wishing all our clients a joyful Christmas.

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Improper Waste Disposal

It’s really important to know where and how to dispose of our waste.  Rachelle Dragani tells us how we should be disposing of our batteries.

Improper Waste Disposal

The Effects of Improper Waste Disposal

Source – https://sciencing.com/scented-cleaning-products-the-new-smoking-13710351.html

Updated October 09, 2019
By Rachelle Dragani

“It’s easy to forget about dead batteries once you toss them or the stink of a baby’s diaper that you chuck in the trash. But all of the waste that’s created has a life long after it’s out of your hands.

Improper waste disposal is a leading contributor to pollution, carbon emissions and disease around the world. Learning more about the issue can help you understand how best to get rid of your own junk, as well as encourage your own cities or companies to improve their waste management systems.

Types of Hazardous Waste
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) characterizes hazardous waste by having at least one of the following four characteristics:

Ignitability: Anything with a flashpoint at or below 140 degrees Fahrenheit is considered ignitable hazardous waste. If improperly disposed of, these materials could start fires or endanger the lives of workers managing the waste. Some common examples include gasoline, thinners, oil-based paints and oxidizers like hydrogen peroxide.

Corrosivity: Waste at risk of being corrosive has a pH level less than two or greater than 12.5. At those levels, it’s possible for the waste to wear down metal containers, such as waste storage bins, and leak harmful materials. Examples you might find in your home include battery acid, cleaning solutions with high acidity or alkalinity and rust removers.

Reactivity: This category includes waste that could cause explosions or toxic gases when mixed with water, certain temperatures or pressure. Examples aren’t often found in homes, as they include explosives and lithium sulfur batteries.

Toxicity: Toxic waste is anything that can cause harm when it comes into contact with skin or is ingested. This category can include mixed waste material that is also reactive, corrosive or ignitable. Some of the most common toxins found in waste are asbestos, cyanide, cadmium, mercury, lead, persistent organic pollutants, arsenic and clinical waste.

These toxins can be found in products like old building materials, pesticides, batteries, medical waste, certain types of plastics, paints and ammunition. Toxins can also be found or generated in one of the growing leaders of contamination: electronic waste (or e-waste). Old computers, phones, household appliances and TVs can all emit toxins that contribute to pollution.

Public Health Disaster
Improper sewage disposal is another giant public health concern. In areas where cities don’t properly manage waste, at least 2 billion people use drinking water sources that have been contaminated with feces. The effects of improper sewage disposal can sometimes lead to outbreaks of deadly diseases, such as:

diarrhea
cholera
dysentery
polio
typhoid

Causes of Improper Waste Management
There are several reasons that waste gets improperly managed. One is a lack of knowledge about hazardous waste; some people don’t understand how many products can be hazardous, or don’t know how to properly dispose of them.

One of the other causes of improper garbage disposal is inaccessibility. Many people, business owners and city leaders, particularly in developing or rural areas, want desperately to properly dispose of waste, toxic garbage and sewage that contaminates their food, land and water supplies. Unfortunately, they might lack the funds, access to professionals, infrastructure or transportation resources to properly dispose of it, continuing the cycle of contamination.

Another one of the biggest causes of waste disposal gone wrong comes at the hands of business and municipal leaders. Despite learning the dangers and negative effects of improper sewage disposal, they continue to use methods like incineration, which can release harmful toxins into the air, land and oceans.

Concerned citizens can contact their local leaders or favorite businesses to make sure that they take measures to dispose of waste in responsible ways.”

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Scented Cleaning Products

Have you ever thought that the fragrances in your cleaning products might actually be harmful?  They just might be the new smoking!!

Scented Cleaning Products

Scented Cleaning Products: The New Smoking?

Source – https://sciencing.com/scented-cleaning-products-the-new-smoking-13710351.html

Updated March 20, 2018
By Sylvie Tremblay

“It’s no secret that indoor air quality is a health concern; the Environmental Protection Agency notes that indoor air can actually be more polluted than outdoor air, even if you live in a large and industrialized city. Continued exposure to pollution, dust and other allergens can aggravate your lungs and airways, worsening asthma and even increasing your risk for cancer.

Clearly, it’s important to keep your place clean to remove as much dust as you can. But there’s a double-edge sword: many cleaning products are loaded with chemicals that can also harm your health, and manufacturers are not required by the Food and Drug Administration to prove that the ingredients in their products are safe. So when you’re planning your spring cleaning, it’s crucial to choose safe cleaning products to help keep your air clean.

The Health Impacts of Cleaning Products
It’s easy to shrug off the effects of cleaning products; out of sight, out of mind, right? However, they can be significant. Research from the American Thoracic Society found that women who often clean in the home or the workplace face significant lung issues. The 20-year study, which was published in the “American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine” in February 2018, found that frequent cleaners had a decrease in lung function that was comparable to the decline seen in smokers. Additional research has found that cleaning products can worsen asthma, providing further proof that these chemicals aren’t good for your airways.

Chemicals to Watch out For
While you may not know how every cleaning product ingredient affects your health, and many are likely completely harmless, there are a few big hitters to avoid. Steer clear of products containing parabens and phthalates, which are often added to scented products to help the scent linger, such as that laundry detergent that keeps your bedding smelling fresh for a week. These compounds may affect hormone levels and can trigger asthma. Look out for triclosan, often found in antimicrobial cleaners and soaps, because it might mimic the effects of estrogen, explains the University of Illinois Cancer Center.

How to Clean Safer
You’ll be able to avoid some harmful chemicals by opting for natural cleaners that are unscented, or scented with essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance. Your best option, though, is to make your own cleaning supplies. Everyday substances like vinegar, baking soda, salt, lemon juice, rubbing alcohol and borax are all you need to make all-purpose cleaner and glass cleaner, or even cleansing scrubs and drain cleaners. If your allergies are bad, consider investing in a HEPA air filter that will help remove dust, pollen and other allergens from the air 24/7.”

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

What are “toxins”?

We hear the word “toxins” a lot these days.  But what are they and are they actually all that harmful?  Take a read.

What are "toxins"?

What Exactly Are “Toxins,” Anyway?

Source – Sciencing.com – https://sciencing.com/what-are-toxins-13724903.html

Updated February 28, 2020
By Sylvie Tremblay

“If we had to pick one health buzzword from the past decade, it’d be “toxins.” From celebs selling “detox tea” on Instagram to “clean” cosmetics that claim to be free of harmful compounds, the concept of “cleansing away toxins” is everywhere.

But what does “toxin” actually mean?

On its most basic level, a toxin is any compound that can have a harmful effect on your body. And when you think of toxins, you probably picture poisons – like cyanide – that are dangerous and deadly, even in small doses.

But the truth is, you’re exposed to toxic substances every day. That’s because any compound can become toxic. Even water, in high enough doses, can be toxic. Sounds crazy, right? It’s strange but true, as this woman unfortunately found out when she entered a water-drinking contest and died.

Exposure to toxic substances can pose a serious risk to your health. So that means detox teas and cleanses are great for you, right?

Unfortunately, no. While “detox” products might not hurt you, they aren’t going to rid your body of toxins, either. Here’s why.

Your Body Can Already Deal with Toxins

That’s because your body already has a built-in system for filtering toxins out of your body. Your liver can help detoxify your body from turning harmful compounds into less harmful (or virtually harmless) ones. And your kidneys help detox your body, too. They continually filter your blood, and allow some harmful substances to leave your body via your urine.

Your lungs get in on the action, too. While they aren’t major detox organs, your airways are lined with molecular “oars,” called cilia, which help move any particles or toxins up and out of your body.

What Happens if Your Natural Detox Systems Fail?

Of course, if your body could handle every toxin perfectly, nothing would truly be poisonous. Some toxins can overwhelm your body’s built-in detox systems – if, for instance, your liver can’t process a toxin quickly enough, it can build up in your body. Other toxins dissolve in fatty tissue, so they can stay in your body, dissolved in your fat cells, and cause ongoing problems.

With that said, detox teas and cleanses won’t do a thing to remove toxins from your body. They can’t make your liver or kidneys work any better. They might make you lose a few pounds, but that’s about it – and that’s the best-case scenario.

As Rush University Medical Center explains, some detox products might actually harm you. Some common detox procedures, like enemas, can damage your intestines – ironically, making it harder to remove toxins from your body via your poop. Other detox practices, like juice cleansing, can leave you temporary malnourished, which could mean you’re more likely to get sick.

What’s more, relying on detox products might keep you from seeking medical attention if you have been exposed to a toxin. And delaying medical attention gives a toxin more time to harm your body, potentially putting you in danger.

So Should You Worry About Toxins?

Kinda, but you need to keep your nerves in check. Environmental toxins do exist, which is why it’s important to fight pollution and demand safer ingredients in your food, cosmetics and household products.

But you should pass on products that claim to help flush toxins from your body. They’re a waste of money because they can’t truly detoxify you. And, as you just read, they can cause more problems than they solve.

If you’re worried about the toxins in your environment, talk to your doctor. They can put your nerves in check – and offer proven treatments if you truly are exposed to too many toxins.”

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

 

Global Record of Mining Land Use

Enjoy today’s article and have a wonderful day!

Global Record of Mining Land Use

Researchers compile first-ever global record of mining land use

Source – Mining Technology – By Matthew Hall

“The first comprehensive, global-scale dataset of the geographical area used for mining activities has been released by researchers from Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna). Satellite imagery has been used to create a global record of land used for mining.

The first comprehensive, global-scale dataset of the geographical area used for mining activities has been released by researchers from Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna). Satellite imagery has been used to create a global record of land used for mining.

The research was undertaken by lead researchers Victor Maus and Stefan Giljum, from WU Vienna’s Institute for Ecological Economics.

“One of the main challenges to assess the impacts of the global mining sector has been the lack of geographical information on the extraction sites,” said Maus.

There are already databases on the mining sector’s activities, but these focus on commodities production, and none offer a global-scale account of the land area used for raw material extraction. Using satellite imagery, the research team used visual interpretation to create the data set that covers more than 6,000 mining sites around the world, all of which had mining activity taking place between 2000 to 2017.

The researchers outlined more than 21,000 mining areas – referred to as “polygons” – using satellite data. All told, those 21,000 polygons form a comprehensive visual data set covering a total area of 57,277km2

This information can be used to improve environmental impact assessments in the mining industry, and can also be used to form a benchmark for further monitoring of global mining activity.

Stefan Giljum said: “In an era of rapidly-increasing global demand for many metal ores, for example for electronic products or renewable energy technologies, information about the environmental consequences of mining is indispensable to achieve more sustainable production and consumption patterns.”
This new record could contribute to wider ecological awareness and accountability in the mining sector – last week, Willis Towers Watson published its Mining Risk Review and highlighted environmental risk as being the largest barrier to insuring mining assets over the next decade and beyond.

The data set could also be used to monitor mining-induced deforestation or fragmentation as well as degradation of ecosystems, in addition to other environmental issues. It may also provide solace for electric vehicle manufacturers, as questions have been raised over the ethics and environmental practices of battery metal producers.”

 

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Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Karoo Deep Drilling

An interesting read on the drilling being done in the Karoo Basin.  Enjoy!

Karoo Deep Drilling

Council for Geoscience starts deep drilling in Karoo basin

Mining Weekly – Source

September 2020 – Marleny Arnoldi

“The Council for Geoscience (CGS) on September 21 launched Phase 2 of the Karoo Deep Drilling and Geo-environmental Base Programme (KDD), in Beaufort West.

The council, as mandated by the Department of Minerals and Energy, in 2016 initiated the research programme to investigate the resource potential of the Karoo basin, which is anticipated to have between 30-trillion and 500-trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas, and possibly uranium, methane or coal resources, according to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa.

The United States Energy Information Administration in 2013 estimated that South Africa has the eighth-largest shale gas reserve in the world, at about 390 tcf of technically recoverable shale gas.

The KDD programme is also targeted at identifying the potential environmental impacts that could arise from shale gas development in the Karoo.

The KDD will provide scientific evidence to inform policy development and regulatory frameworks on shale gas exploration and extraction, which CGS CEO Mosa Mabuza says can be a significant addition to South Africa’s energy mix and the economy as a whole.

Shale gas is a natural gas consisting primarily of methane and about 20% higher hydrocarbons, such as ethane.

Finding domestic gas feedstock will diversify South Africa’s energy mix and reduce carbon emissions. However, South Africa cannot make an environmental assessment of the Karoo’s shale gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing within the current legal framework.

Therefore, the KDD serves as a baseline study for future shale gas research work and plays a vital role in the review of petroleum regulations.

Phase 2 of the programme involves CGS establishing a geo-environmental baseline and putting in place environmental monitoring mechanisms.

The council had contracted Major Drilling to undertake drilling for a 3.5-km-deep vertical stratigraphic core borehole over the next 10 to 12 months. This borehole is aimed at intersecting the formation earmarked to have the highest potential for shale gas.

CGS also aims for the drilling to intersect deep brackish groundwater to understand its location and advise how it can be managed to avoid contamination with fresh water during further exploration and exploitation activities.

During Phase 1 of the KDD, CGS consulted with local communities, the Beaufort West municipality and other interested parties, and have since been given the “thumbs up” to proceed with the programme.

Phase 1 comprised geological and structural mapping activities at a regional scale, including hydrogeology, airborne and ground geophysics, environmental screening and seismic monitoring.

Environmental consultants were part of the CGS’s stakeholder engagement process and had given the green light for the council to proceed with Phase 2 of the programme.

The initial drilling stages of the project had already proven beneficial to the Beaufort West communities, with CGS having discovered five 169-m-deep shallow observation wells in November 2017 – two of which have the capacity to yield good quality groundwater of up to 33-million litres a month.

This discovery coincided with the unprecedented drought that the Western Cape experienced at the time. CGS subsequently donated the two boreholes to the Beaufort West municipality to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

To date, the municipality had pumped almost 400-million litres of water to the people of Beaufort West.

Phases 3 and 4 of the KDD will involve borehole results analyses and post-drilling monitoring.

GREAT DEBATE
There remains concern about the impact of shale gas exploration and production in South Africa and questions about whether South Africa has sufficient viable shale gas reserves.

Nelson Mandela University Africa Earth Observatory’s Maarten de Wit in the South African Journal of Science in 2011 wrote about his concerns around shale gas discovery and extraction in South Africa.

At the time, he said it was not known with any degree of certainty how much gas may be beneath the Karoo and that, even if there was enough, it was uncertain whether the gas could be tapped without damaging other subsurface resources.

“Conservationists argue that extraction of the gas will leave massive irreparable environmental scars on one of South Africa’s iconic landscapes, while there may well be human health hazards pending from associated chemical pollution.”

However, he also acknowledges that gas is generally considered to be a cleaner source of energy than coal. This is especially welcome, given carbon emission targets that South Africa has, in light of climate change.

De Wit stated that shale gas is a bridging fuel toward renewable energy sources and an opportunity to wean the country’s grid off coal. “This approach will require holistic valuations that are yet to be attempted in either of the Karoo camps.”

Professor Bob Scholes of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Global Change Institute says studies by the Academy of Science of South Africa suggest that it is increasingly unlikely that economically and technically viable gas can be found in the Karoo.

In the absence of new exploration and testing up to now, the upper limit of gas in the Central Karoo had been estimated at 20 tcf.

Scholes points out that this is a tiny resource by global standards. In terms of energy content, 20 tcf of gas is about 40 times smaller than the known remaining coal reserves in South Africa.

Conventional gas reserves offshore of Mozambique have been estimated at 75 tcf, he adds.

Nonetheless, even a small viable gas find in South Africa can transform the national energy economy.

Mabuza tells Engineering News & Mining Weekly that even 1 tcf of gas can be economically exploited and benefit the national power grid and the economy. He expressed confidence in the KDD proving the safety and viability of the Karoo’s shale gas resource over the next few years.”

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