Pyrite oxidation in coal-bearing strata : controls on in-situ oxidation as a precursor of acid mine drainage formation
Pyrite oxidation in coal-bearing strata is recognised as the main precursor to Acidic Mine Drainage (AMD) generation. Predicting AMD quality and quantity for remediation, or proposed extraction, requires assessment of interactions between oxidising fluids and pyrite, and between oxidation products and groundwater. Current predictive methods and models rarely account for individual mineral weathering rates, or their distribution within rock. Better constraints on the importance of such variables in controlling rock leachate are required to provide more reliable predictions of AMD quality. In this study assumptions made during modelling of AMD generation were tested including; homogeneity of rock chemical and physical characteristics, controls on the rate of embedded pyrite oxidation and oxidation front ingress. The main conclusions of this work are:• The ingress of a pyrite oxidation front into coal-bearing strata depends on dominant oxidant transport mechanism, pyrite morphology and rock pore-size distribution.• Although pyrite oxidation rates predicted from rate laws and derived from experimental weathering of coal-bearing strata agree, uncertainty in surface area of framboids produces at least an order of magnitude error in predicted rates.• Pyrite oxidation products in partly unsaturated rock are removed to solution via a cycle of dissolution and precipitation at the water-rock interface. Dissolution mainly occurs along rock cleavage planes, as does diffusion of dissolved oxidant.• Significant variance of whole seam S and pyrite wt % existed over a 30 m exposure of an analysed coal seam. Assuming a seam mean pyrite wt % to predict net acid producing potential for coal and shale seams may be unsuitable, at this scale at least.• Seasonal variation in AMD discharge chemistry indicates that base-flow is not necessarily representative of extreme poor quality leachate. Summer and winter storms, following relatively dry periods, tended to release the greatest volume of pyrite oxidation products.