Remote Mining Using Water for Ground Support
Organization: International Conference on Ground Control in Mining
Jan 1, 1986
The support of underground openings by water is a natural phenomenon. Surface sinkholes, such as those that occur with some frequency in Florida, are attributed to a lowering of the water table resulting in the draining of existing limestone cavities. This withdraw the natural support and causes the surface subsidence. The role of water as a ground support medium was demonstrated in a mining situation during Bureau of Mines research on borehole mining of phosphate in St. Johns County, Florida. The borehole mining tool (BHT) incorporates a water jet nozzle and slurry eduotor in a single down- hole tool. The tool is lowered through a bore- hole into the ore zone, and an underground cavity is eroded by the motion of the water jet with the slurry simultaneously pumped to the surface. In addition to phosphate, the system has been successfully used in coal, oil sands, and uranium. The Florida phosphate ore is located at a depth of approximately 250 ft in strata that produce high water inflows. These factors preclude extraction by conventional methods, either surface or underground, but they present an ideal setting for borehole mining. Previous borehole mining research had led the researchers to believe that the system would only be effective in a void cavity, that is, a cavity where the water level is maintained below the water jet nozzle, so that the water does not impede the action of the let. It was soon discovered, however, that the void cavity presented ground control problems. The overlying strata started to cave soon after the support provided by the water was removed. This was an unacceptable situation as it adulterated the ore and threatened surface subsidence. Further tests wherein the size of the cavity -as reduced by cutting only a 30° arc also resulted in caving. A new concept, air shielding, was then introduced and tested. With this system, the water jet cutter was surrounded with a shroud of compressed air, thereby gaining the advantages of cutting in air while retaining the roof support afforded by a water-filled cavity. This arrangement proved to be highly successful. The air-shrouded jet was able to cut a cavity radius of about 18 ft, and the system production was 35 tph, which compared favorably to the production previously attained in void cavities. The borehole phosphate experience proves the efficacy of remote mining in a water filled opening. This system neutralises the hazards of heavy ground, and may, as in the case of the phosphate deposits, be the only viable alternative. It opens up the possibility of application in a wide range of deposits not only those amenable to hydraulic mining. Remote mechanical System might be developed using present robotics technology and then operated in water-filled openings.