Mining Below the Gabbro Sill, Premier Mine, Cullinan, South Africa.

McMurray, S.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 17
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
INTRODUCTION Towards the end of the 1890s the attention of a prospector by the name of Thomas Cullinan was drawn to the occurrence of alluvial diamonds east of Pretoria. Persistent prospecting work by Cullinan led to the loca¬tion of the source of these diamonds-a kimberlite pipe on the Elandsfontein farm. Cullinan eventually acquired the property in 1902, and during an extensive evaluation program outlined the largest diamondiferous pipe in South Africa on which the Premier mine was established. Worldwide attention was drawn to this mine in 1905 when the Cullinan diamond, which weighed 3106 carats and is by far the largest gem diamond ever discovered, was recovered. Premier mine operated with varying success until 1932 when the worldwide depression forced it to close. In 1945 the mine was reopened and since then has been a major producer of gem and industrial diamonds. During the early 1950s exploratory drilling revealed that below the 370-m level the pipe had been completely cut off by a younger gabbro sill. This sill has created major mining and metallurgical problems but the existence of vast reserves of high grade ore below it justi¬fied the establishment of virtually a new mine below the sill. Detailed planning of below-the-sill mining is nearing completion and the development of the first mining block (the L1 block) is well advanced. A full discus¬sion of this block follows. GEOLOGY OF PREMIER MINE Pipe Morphology and Country-Rock Geology As can be seen in Fig. 1, Premier mine is an elon¬gated oval shape with a long axis of 900 m on the surface and a short axis of 450 m. The pipe has a surface area of 32 hectares which decreases progres¬sively with increasing depth, so that 500 m below the surface the area is reduced to 22 hectares. The contact between the kimberlite and the surrounding country rock is sharp, with an average angle of dip of 1.48 rad (85°). From the surface down to approximately 350 m, the country rock is a felsite which grades downwards into a norite. In general both rock types are hard and massive, the felsite in particular being poorly jointed. This characteristic combined with other factors results in an extremely stable open pit, and near-vertical side¬walls are currently being maintained. The norite in general is competent but is heavily jointed in some areas resulting in very blocky ground which creates localized tunnel support problems. In the southeastern area below the sill a zone of highly altered and very unstable norite, which has also created localized sup¬port and development difficulties, lies adjacent to the pipe contact. Kimberlite Geology The Premier pipe is a complex multiple intrusion which contains in the region of 15 separate types of kimberlite, most of which are volumetrically insignifi¬cant. On a simplified basis three major types can be identified which correspond to three separate phases of intrusion. They are: Brown Kimberlite: This represents the first phase of intrusion and now occupies the eastern part of the pipe. In plan the brown kimberlite has a crescentric shape resulting from the intrusive relationship with the younger gray kimberlite which lies to the west. The brown kimberlite increases in relative area with increas¬ing depth which is a favorable factor for future mining operations since this kimberlite is the richest area of the mine, having an average grade of 70 carats/ 100 t. Below the sill this rock disintegrates extremely rapidly when exposed to air or water, to form a fine gravel-like material. This characteristic is due to a high montmorilonite clay content. As is common with clay minerals of this type, water can be absorbed into the crystal lattice with a resultant increase in volume which causes the physical decomposition of the rock. The presence of this decomposing kimberlite was a major factor governing the choice of a mining method, as well as development and tunnel support techniques. Gray Kimberlite: This is the most abundant type and represents the second major phase of intrusion. The diamond content is variable depending on the amount of waste rock dilution, and in general the rock is stable and non-decomposing. At the time of formation of Premier, the surface rock type was Waterberg quartzite, a rock formation which has subsequently been removed from this area by erosion. The explosive extrusion of the gray kimberlite caused extensive brecciation of this rock and while the kimberlite was in a mobile state huge masses of quartz¬ite, amounting to tens of millions of tons, slumped into the pipe. This quartzite became concentrated in the central area of the mine and has been a major mining problem throughout the history of Premier since, due to the irregular distribution of the quartzite, effective selective mining has never been possible. The quartzite is therefore extracted with the ore and has a significant dilution effect on the overall grade. Black Kimberlite: In the western part of the pipe a circular, pluglike body of kimberlite is intruded into the gray kimberlite. This plug consists mainly of a hard, dark-colored rock known as black kimberlite, but also contains a number of minor kimberlite variet.ies as well as nonkimberlite carbonate dikes. The Gabbro Sill The sill averages 75 m in thickness and within the confines of the pipe consists of 52 million t of rock. On average the major dip is 0.34 rad (20°) to the northeast which is across the short axis of the pipe, the range of dip being from near horizontal up to 0.52 rad (30°). Due to the pronounced dip, the sill is encount¬ered over a vertical distance of 175 m with the highest upper contacts on the 355-m horizon and the lowest bottom contact on the 530-m horizon.
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