An Integrated Risk Management Approach For Underground Coal Pillar Extraction In South Africa

Lind, G.
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 12
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2005
Analysis for pillar extraction potential (A-PEP) is an intelligent tool, which could be used as a preliminary output indicator when considering the secondary extraction of regional support pillars in the Witbank and Highveld coalfields of South Africa. The safe and economic extraction of underground coal pillars is of paramount significance and importance to the South African coalmining industry to ensure continuity of supply of this fossil fuel. Pillar extraction practices in South Africa have been responsible a significant proportion of safety and fatality statistics in relation to its relative output (less than 5 per cent of total South African coal production) and, as a result, research was undertaken in local pillar extraction operations and extended to similar operations in New South Wales, Australia to assess a way forward for pillar extraction in South Africa. It was found that, although little in the way of new technologies has emerged in this field in the recent past, significant contributions could be made in the field of risk analysis to obtain a generic design methodology for pillar extraction in South Africa. The resultant A-PEP tool to assess pillar extraction potential is based on certain physical, risk and economic factors, which combine to indicate operational success in terms of economic, health and safety attributes. At the time of A-PEP?s development there was alack of operating underground coal pillar extraction operations, which made it difficult to validate its applicability. Since then, however, A-PEP has been successfully tested and validated against two unique underground coal pillar operations, which is the discussion of this paper. One operation is situated in the Witbank coalfield and is extracting pillars, which are 20 years old and at a depth of 80 metres below surface, while the other operation is situated in the Highveld coalfield-which is extracting 6 month-old-pillars underneath a massive dolerite sill at a depth of 220 metres. A-PEP has shown that its predictive nature is consistent the workings at both operations, irrespective of their unique conditions, and as such it can be successfully used as a mine planning tool. The A-PEP mine planning tool thus represents a positive step toward an integrated approach to underground coal pillar extraction when considering legal and operational aspects, which could form the basis for legislative guidelines when considering the future of pillar extraction in South Africa.
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