Subsidence and Structural Damages Above Abandoned Coal Mines

Peng, Syd S. ; Centofanti, K. ; Luo, Yi ; Ma, W. M. ; Su, Daniel W. H. ; Zhong, W. L.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 7
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1992
9.1 INTRODUCTION There are approximately 70,000 abandoned coal mines nation¬wide, which is about 35 times the number of underground coal mines presently operating. The US Bureau of Mines estimates that there are over 8 million acres of undermined land due to the extraction of coal, metals, and nonmetals. Subsidence has affected more than 2 million acres, and more than 99% of the subsidence is related to underground coal mining. There is reason to believe that some of the remaining 6 million acres of the undermined land have a high potential to subside. The expansion of housing, highways, commercial structures, and other facilities has required the use of many areas that are underlain by abandoned coal mines, and this growth will continue. Many subsidence problems are derived from the collapse of aban¬doned underground coal mines. There are numerous abandoned mine workings in the anthracite fields of northeastern Pennsylva¬nia, in the Appalachian bituminous fields, the Illinois Basin, the Rock Springs, Wyoming area, and other areas of the United States (Gray et al., 1976). Various room and pillar patterns of mining have been used in the dipping anthracite seams and the nearly flat-lying bituminous seams with considerable variation in the per¬centage of coal extracted. The progressive deterioration of pillars, mine floors, and mine roofs after long exposure to air and water may later result in the collapse of strata over the mine entries, the crushing of the remaining coal pillars, or the bearing failure of the mine floor beneath the coal pillars. Subsidence then results as the collapse reaches the ground surface in the form of differential strains, depressions, cracking of the ground, and sinkhole devel¬opment. Subsidence over active longwall mines, which occurs concurrently with mining or is completed within a short period following coal extraction, has been studied extensively over the past decade. On the other hand, subsidence over abandoned coal mines receives little attention by the researchers, mainly because it is difficult to predict and takes place decades after mining has ceased. The techniques of investigating the subsidence events over abandoned coal mines are similar to those employed for active mines except that at the outset, it is necessary to determine whether or not the subsidence events are mining-related (Chugh et al., 1986; Cummings and Singh, 1986; Peng and Hsiung, 1986). This calls for the identification and confirmation of abandoned mine workings under or near the affected surface structures. Gen¬erally old mine maps, if available, are acquired, the surface bore¬holes are drilled for confirmation of the accuracy of the mine maps and determination of the potential for continued subsidence. Sub¬sidence monuments are established and periodic surveys con¬ducted to determine the amount and trends of surface movement in and around the affected surface structures; surface boreholes are used to investigate the integrity of the underground structures (i.e., roof, coal pillars, and floor) by TV camera. They are also used for monitoring the vertical and horizontal movements of the subsur¬face strata by Sondex (FPBX) and inclinometer (PFBI), respec¬tively, for determining the continuity of the subsidence events. Tape extensometers, crackmeters, etc., are used to monitor the development trends of major cracks in the structures or on the ground. These data are used to identify the causes of the subsidence events. Finally, abatement methods are selected to stabilize the structures. It must be noted that most subsidence events over abandoned coal mines are reported after the fact, and investiga¬tions are begun some time after reporting, that the subsequent measured movements are generally much smaller than that at¬tained in the active mines, and that due to lack of knowledge about the damage conditions and the exact location of the abandoned mine workings with respect to the affected surface structures, the precise causes of surface subsidence or surface structural damages are in most cases very difficult to identify. 9.2 TYPES OF SURFACE SUBSIDENCE According to Gray et al. (1977), after examining 354 incidents of subsidence above abandoned mines in the Pittsburgh metropol¬itan area, the subsidence features have a mean diameter (i.e. the average of long and short dimensions) from less than 1 ft to 1600 ft, with 84% less than or equal to 15 ft; the subsidence features have a depth ranging from less than 1 ft to 48 ft, with 89% less than 25 ft; 66% of the subsidence features are deeper than they are broad. Nearly 59% of the subsidence features occur with overbur¬den less than 50 ft thick and 81% less than 100 ft thick. No subsidence features occur with overburden thicker than 450 ft (Fig. 9.1). Occurrence of subsidence incidents varies from imme¬diately to more than 100 years after mining (Fig. 9.2). In analyzing the characteristics of approximately 3000 chim¬ney subsidence features along the Colorado Front Range, Matheson and Eckert-Clift (1986) examined historical aerial photographs on 4- to 14-year intervals between 1937 and 1967 and found that the majority of observable surface subsidence features occurred within 30 to 40 years after mining. According to Gray et al. (1977), the most prevalent subsi¬dence features over abandoned mined land are sinkholes, with depths of more than 3 ft, and troughs or sags, usually less than 3 ft deep. Sinkholes are steep-sided pits, while troughs are shallow depressions much wider in area than sinkholes. A. SINKHOLE SUBSIDENCE A sinkhole is caused by the collapse of a mine roof that works its way upward. If it is not arrested during the process it will eventually reach the surface and emerge as a sinkhole. The process is governed by the thickness and character of the overburden, the width and height of the mine openings. Sinkholes are usually 3 to 20 ft deep and may be 2 to 40 ft in diameter, although most are fewer than 16 ft across (Gray et al., 1977; DuMontelle and Bauer, 1983). Newly formed sinkholes have steep sides with straight or bell-shaped walls. At times, they appear to be conical in profile with the apex upward. If the topsoil collapses, the top portion will widen to form an hour-glass shape. Sinkhole subsidence usually occurs over abandoned mines less than 165 ft deep (Hunt, 1979). Matheson and Eckert-Clift (1986) found that chimney sink¬holes are likely to occur when the ratio of overburden thickness to mining height (h/m) is less than 4 to 5. When h/m is between 5 and 10 to 11, the potential occurrence of chimney sinkholes decreases rapidly. When h/m is more than 10 to 11, less than 10% of the mine openings that collapse will induce sinkholes on the surface.
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