A Holistic Assessment Of Slope Stability Analysis In Mining Applications - Introduction - Preprint 09-046

Sample, K.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 8
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2009
Slope stability analysis plays an integral role in the design of various mining applications including waste dumps, heap leach piles, solution ponds, and tailings dams. Generally, limit equilibrium analysis using one of the several prevalent approaches is considered adequate. The density, saturation, and shear strength parameters of the materials forming the slope affect the failure mode and the calculated factor of safety (FS) against sliding. These parameters are generally based on laboratory tests. Field practices and construction procedures are often not completely simulated in the laboratory for various reasons (e.g. equipment limits, time and budget restraints, etc.). This paper presents a holistic assessment of slope stability analysis as practiced in mining applications, using example data from multiple heap leach projects. A sensitivity analysis is presented for variations in material properties, data interpretation, and computation methods. For each step in the design process, the possible variations in parameter values were identified and then used to perform traditional and probabilistic stability analyses. This simple, cradle-to-grave-type approach is used to evaluate the reliability of an example design, and the combined impact of multiple uncertainties on the factor of safety. Example Study The issue of addressing uncertainty in geotechnical design has been discussed in depth by numerous authors (Duncan 2000; Christian 2004; Whitman 1984; Christian et al. 1993). One may ignore the uncertainties involved in a design, take a conservative approach, rely on observational methods (Peck 1969), or attempt to quantify the uncertainty. Geotechnical projects in general, may include a combination of these methods. For important structures, such as heap leach pads, it is critical that sources of uncertainty in the stability analysis be acknowledged early on and considered in the overall design approach. As with any project, economics and other physical constraints, such as space limitation, often do not always allow for an overly-conservative, robust design. In an effort to quantify uncertainty and provide a sense of level of confidence in the safety and reliability of a design, probabilistic methods have been developed and implemented in many slope stability software packages. Reliability methods are often used in the design of open pit mine slopes, but not as commonly in designing heap leach pads and waste dumps. As an example, the stability analysis of a copper heap leach project is presented here to evaluate the effects of multiple sources of uncertainty and differing methods of data interpretation. Some of the parametric values, or the variation therein, are assumed on the basis of actual data from multiple heap leach projects, included in the paper as well. A generic representation of the example case study is shown in Figure 1. As depicted in the cross-section, the ultimate height of the design is 114 m (measured from the crest to the toe). The overall slope of the heap leach pad is 1.88 horizontal to 1 vertical (1.88H:1V), or 28°. The slope benches are considered in the overall slope. The example leach pad is founded on alluvial, colluvial and residual soils overlying weathered limestone. The ore to be placed on the pad is characterized as poorly graded gravel (GP) with average fines content (percent passing #200 sieve) of 4%. The liner subgrade is low permeability (fine) soil. The cover or the drainage material, placed directly above the geomembrane (between the liner and the ore), is crushed ore in this case. The phreatic surface was assumed to be 1 m above the base liner, which is what the collection system over the liner is typically designed for. [ ] In heap leach pads, typically, Linear Low Density Polyethylene (LLDPE) or High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is used as the base liner. The decision is based on the elongation, strength and other requirements of the application as well as economic considerations. In this example study, the base liner was 80-mil single-side textured LLDPE. FIELD INVETIGATION AND SAMPLING When selecting appropriate values for the input parameters of the stability analysis, the level of uncertainty in the data and the assumptions that are made must be clearly identified and considered in the design. This concept has been emphasized through an extensive number of publications regarding geotechnical uncertainty and reliability (Christian et al. 1994; Duncan 2000; Christian 2004). The primary source of uncertainties involved in slope stability analysis for mining applications is inadequate geotechnical investigation, often lacking in a thorough assessment of in-situ material characterization and sampling disturbances. To emphasize this point, some background information is presented here. The tradeoff between the costs of a thorough site investigation versus the risks of design uncertainty has long been a challenging management decision in geotechnical projects. For mine sites, significant investment is typically made in exploration and estimating mineral resources and the geology of a mine site is often more thoroughly documented than other types of geotechnical projects. Nevertheless, the engineering properties of the soil and rocks relevant to slope stability receive less emphasis. Baecher and Christian (2003) observed that the areas of geotechnical concern, such as slopes and waste disposal facilities, are usually associated with mine costs rather than revenue, and therefore, significantly less money is devoted to their site characterization and laboratory testing. The expenditure for site investigations varies significantly from project to project, with higher levels of uncertainty and, therefore, the
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