Cavability of Ore Deposits

Kendorski, Francis S.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 6
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
INTRODUCTION Caving offers the lowest cost per ton of any large-scale mining method, but its successful application demands an ore body that conforms to several rigid requirements. The deposit must be of wide areal extent, massive and not spotty in ore values, and insensitive to ore dilution. It must also be a rock mass that breaks up readily. There are only three active caving operations in the US-Climax, Henderson, and San Manuel-but caving methods have recently taken on new importance as deeper lower grade mineral occurrences and ore bodies are found. These deposits are too deep for surface min¬ing methods, and too low grade to support any type of underground mining except a bulk method such as caving. Announced discoveries or indications that may be amenable to caving include: Climax's Mt. Emmons molybdenum discovery in Colorado; Molycorp's Goat Hill molybdenum prospect in New Mexico; the Phelps Dodge molybdenum deposit in Beaver County, UT; Arizona copper occurrences such as Asarco's Sacaton, Hanna's Casa Grande, Noranda's Lakeshore, and Ken¬necott's Safford; Anaconda's suspected deep copper de¬posit in Butte, MT; Anaconda's Carr Fork, UT, deposit; and perhaps others. CAVABILITY'S ROLE IN FEASIBILITY STUDIES Caving is a system of underground mining which removes support from underneath an ore body. As a result, the rock mass fractures, fails, and flows vertically downward by gravity to be collected in previously ex¬cavated funnels. Types of ore that have been mined by caving include molybdenum, copper, iron, nickel, as¬bestos, and diamonds (Julin and Tobie, 1973). It is primarily a large-scale method, with production rates of more than 45 300 t/d (50,000 stpd) having been achieved. However, the initial capital investment before return is very high, often in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The cavability of an ore body or mineral occurrence is a critical item in the feasibility study of a proposed mine, not only from the point of overall minability, but from the point of impact on other costs such as blasting, loading, hauling, crushing, and grade recovered. Aside from the often-asked question of, "Will it or will it not cave?" the real questions are, "Can we afford to make it cave, carry the rock away, and extract the mineral?" The last is not a topic of this chapter, but the first two are. The cavability of an ore deposit or mineral occur¬rence is based on many things, but clearly, if a large enough area is undermined, any rock mass will cave. The result could be a violent collapse as occurred at Urad, CO (Kendrick, 1970), or perhaps the rock mass will cave beyond the ore boundary. Another unfavor¬able result could be ore blocks that are too large for the equipment and orepasses to handle without considerable secondary blasting. Weak rock with numerous fractures may produce a very fine ore when it caves, resulting in dilution and ground control problems. DETERMINING STRUCTURAL DOMAINS It has long been recognized that the geologic nature of an ore body is important to cavability (King, 1946). Such items as weak rock material, intensity of fractur¬ing, and severity of faulting all contribute to the success of a caving operation, and information regarding these is required as a minimum for the cavability determination. In practice, the rock mass-defined as the blocks of intact rock together with the intervening fractures, joints, faults, bedding planes, and other discontinuities-that contains the ore body, as well as the surrounding and overlying rock, must be examined in a systematic and detailed fashion. Surficial geology maps must be pre¬pared, exploration holes drilled, and core logged for en¬gineering information. The fracturing of the rock mass must be studied to ascertain the three-dimensional dis¬tribution of fractures and their characteristics, and faults must be located and described. The strength and other mechanical properties of the rock material, the fracture surfaces, and the fault filling materials must be tested and reported for later use by designers and planners. With this basic information and an understanding of the geologic setting, the rock mass can be divided into one or more structural domains which tend to behave similarly in response to engineering activities (Robertson and Piteau, 1970). One must keep in mind that the determination of the structural domains goes beyond the geologic units present. Several lithologic units may be lumped together, while a single lithologic unit can be divided into multiple domains. Major faults often form their own domain, and the direction of engineering ac¬tivity-for example, cave advance to the north rather than the south-may alter rock mass behavior, resulting in different domains. As an example of the detailed rock fracture map¬ping required for such studies, the structural domain determinations at the Climax mine (Kendorski, 1973) are shown in Fig. 1. The circles are Schmidt equal area projections of the three-dimensional attitudes of frac¬tures (Ramsay, 1967) mapped in detail at various rock exposures. The attitude of fractures is important to the cavability determination since it dictates the directional behavior of the rock mass as it fails, and determines the effectiveness of arching, keying, and rock block inter¬locking. Low-angle fractures must be present to allow movement of the rock in the vertical direction during undermining (Mahtab and Dixon, 1976); if low-angle planes of weakness are absent, the rock mass may arch with a keystone effect, rather than moving vertically downward.
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