Recent lessons that have been learned in open-pit mine stability – 1986 Jackling Lecture

Brawner, C. O.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 8
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1987
INTRODUCTION My first major involvement on a rock mine slope stability project was in 1966 after I had become a principal of Golder Brawner & Associates in Vancouver, Canada. I received a request from Kennecott to evaluate two serious rock slope failures adjacent to the concentrator on their British Columbia molybdenum property near Alice Arm, BC, which was under construction. A rock slope up to 200 ft* high had been excavated at a design angle of 700. The inspection indicated that several large blocks of about 1000 cu yd each had failed on steeply inclined joint surfaces. Stability was reduced by extensive seepage caused by heavy rainfall. In addition, considerable overbreak had occurred, indicating excessive blasting had been used to excavate the slope. A program was developed to rock bolt potentially unstable blocks that could slide on dipping discontinuities. Some rock was scaled back to the inclined joints, and drain holes were drilled to reduce water pressures. The project was completed successfully and within reasonable economics. As a result of this success, enquiries were received regarding other mining projects. This indicated the potential demand for rock slope engineering. As a result, I took one month off to meet and discuss rock mechanics and slope stability with various people internationally. These included D. Coates in Canada, E. Hoek in England, K. John and L. Mueller in Germany, M. Rocha in Portugal, and the US Bureau of Mines in Denver, CO. Early misconceptions Based on involvement in projects during the next few years, it was concluded that there were a considerable number of misconceptions that existed among some geologists and mining engineers dealing with surface rock mechanics. Some of these included: • Water is a lubricant. This is incorrect. Water reduces the shear strength along discontinuities due to buoyancy, which reduces frictional strength. It also reduces the cohesion of clayey-type rocks. • The optimum pit slope angle in rock is 45°. The optimum slope angle for safety and economics is variable and is influenced particularly by structural geology, water pressures, mine blasting practices, and the depth and degree of weathering. • The flattest angle for slope stability is dictated by the angle of repose of broken rock, about 370. Where clayey-type rocks or clayey infill in discontinuities exists, failure can occur at much flatter angles, requiring flatter slopes or artificial stabilization. • Uniaxial and triaxial tests provide the necessary shear strength parameters to design rock slopes. Most failures in rock slopes are controlled by directional discontinuities. Therefore, the direct shear test is the correct test to evaluate strength parameters for most problems.
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