Geotechnical Factors in Undercut-Cave Mining

Panek, Louis A.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 10
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
INTRODUCTION Block caving is distinguished from other types of mining in its requirements that the mineral body to be extracted must cave after a relatively large tabular open¬ing is created underneath it, and that the caving must be predictable and controllable for both operating and safety reasons. A mineral body that caves readily may present special problems with respect to ground support in the mining access openings, where stability, rather than failure, is the desired objective. The complete ex¬traction of a caving block, which may measure 50 to 100 m on a side and 100 to 300 m in height, tends to create a large void, resulting in significant changes in the ground stress system and a migration of rock from all directions toward the void; these events begin very early in the life of the mine and lead to additional spe¬cial problems with respect to control of ground move¬ments in the mine working areas, in the rock adjacent to the caving stope, and on the subsiding surface above the mine. Thus, the mechanics of an undercut-cave operation involve a broad range of geotechnical subject matter, including the determination of the lithostatic earth stresses, the structural properties of a large jointed rock mass, the flow properties of the fragments after caving, the stability of tunnel-like openings, and the stability and displacements of the rock structure (1 to 2 km in size) that surrounds the ore body. The objectives are achieved by in-place measurement of rock properties, laboratory tests, theoretical structural analyses of the related prob¬lems, measurements of structural behavior in and above the mine, and comparison of theoretical predictions with actual performance in order to interpret and refine the predictive capability. Undercut-cave mining (Julin, et al., 1973) differs from most other methods in that the caving is an essen¬tial and inherent part of the excavation process and in¬volves the movements of millions of cubic meters of rock over distances of hundreds of meters, as compared to the gradual 2-m settling of the overburden typical of full¬caving longwall coal mining. Undercut-cave mining may involve a rock mass on the scale of a 1-km diam open¬pit mine, but mining is several times deeper than that in the open-pit mine; furthermore, a large portion of the rock mass is in a failed, rather than a stable, state. Ground-control problems are inevitable in a situa¬tion where ground movements are occurring on such a large scale, and where the rock mass is expected con¬veniently to cave at one location but to be stable at an¬other. To devise effective responses to these ground¬control problems, one needs to know first of all what is happening, not merely at the point where the symptoms are observed, but more broadly with respect to the be¬havior of the entire mine rock-mass structure over the total area of extraction, including the effects on the sur¬face as well as those underground. Monitoring structural behavior on this scale would require a sizable group of people, if they attempted to measure all the significant mining-induced changes of ground displacement and pressure, even on a 100-m grid of points. The practical approach is to conduct the mea¬surements activity by a judicious sampling, making in¬termittent, concentrated efforts in selected areas of lim¬ited extent to study problems of immediate importance; simultaneously a minimum level of surveillance is main¬tained over the total structure to delineate long-term be¬havior trends in the major structure, which provide the baseline reference data that are so essential for interpre¬tive purposes. Mine-structure behavior depends not only on the mine extraction configuration and sequence, but on the rock structural properties and how they change from one location to another in the mine. Increasing attention is being given to determinations of rock strength and de¬formation by performing mechanical properties tests in place and in the laboratory, and by drawing inferences from the mapping of geologic structure in mine openings as they are driven and from the logging of cores ob¬tained from exploration drilling that may be performed primarily for delineating ore reserves. Monitoring of mine-structure behavior and inter¬preting it in terms of the growing excavations and the structural properties of the rocks have significant im¬pacts on designing the major undercut-cave operations of undercutting and drawing the ore, supporting the ac¬cess openings, and controlling surface subsidence. The purpose of this chapter is to call attention to the com¬mon ground-control problems encountered in undercut¬cave mining, to relate them to the mining process, and to explain the geomechanical approaches to analyzing these problems with emphasis on methods that are most readily available to the mine staff. UNDERCUTTING, CAVING, AND DRAWING A distinguishing characteristic of an undercut-caving method of extraction is the objective that the rock mass fails of its own weight in a predictable and controllable manner, after it is undercut by excavating a tabular¬shaped void, horizontal or inclined. Induced or forced caving refers to procedures that may be resorted to when the ore will not self-cave over the desired span. Block caving, panel caving, and mass caving are terms used to denote the particular sequence of undercutting and ex¬tracting the total area of the ore body on a single min¬ing level. The discussion herein is not specialized to any of these variations; the word block as used does not imply anything as to sequence. CREATING THE UNDERCUT A common undercutting method is to drive a series of drifts and blast the intervening pillars. Theoretical structural analysis and practical experience show that ground-support problems in the undercutting drifts and in underlying access openings as well (the same princi¬ple applies even if undercutting is done by belling out drawpoints from the slusher drifts) are minimized by retreat-mining across the undercut slot according to a sequence such that the growing undercut area retains a
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