The Flooding at the West Driefontein Mine

Cousens, R. R. M. ; Garrett, W. S.
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 43
Publication Date: Jan 5, 1969
SYNOPSIS The paper gives a background to the water hazards of the so-called West Wits Line and refers to some geological aspects of the Wonderfontein Valley in which the West Driefontein mine property lies. It describes the precautions taken against flooding during shaft sinking, development and stoping; these include cover hole drilling with cementation, provision for water storage in worked-out areas, installation of water tight bulkhead doors and pumping capacity well in excess of the mine's normal requirements. The plan of campaign adopted after the inrush took place is explained and the reorganization and expansion of pumping arrangements are discussed. When it became clear that the only means of saving the mine was to construct plugs to isolate the inrush while still maintaining all emergency pumping measures, the work was put in hand with the utmost dispatch. In considering the design of the plugs a number of major factors had to be taken into account. The most vital was the need for speed which was complicated by difficulty of access to the plug sites because of the huge volumes of water flowing in the drives. How this and other factors affecting plug design and construction, leakage problems, sequence of operations and final closure of the valves, were overcome is detailed in the paper. INTRODUCTION The inrush of water into the West Driefontein mine, the biggest gold producer in the world, which began on 26th October, 1968 and continued unabated for 23 days before the flood was stemmed, was unprecedented in the history of mining. Also unprecedented were the tremendous efforts and organization which made it possible to bring the situation under control and so save the mine from being lost for a matter of years. BACKGROUND Before going into details of how the situation was brought under control it is appropriate to consider the background to the event. The water problem on the so-called West Wits Line has been recognized for many years. As far back as 1912 the Pullinger Shaft, situated in the centre of what is now the Venterspost mine property, had to be abandoned because there were no means then available of coping with the large quantity of water encountered. To appreciate what vast quantities of water were involved, it helps to refer to some geological aspects of the Wonderfontein valley in which the West Driefontein property lies. The narrow tabular Witwatersrand gold-bearing beds, which dip at about 25 degrees towards the south, are overlain by a surface layer of dolomite which reaches a maximum thickness of some 4,000 ft at West Driefontein. A number of vertical syenitic dykes intersect the valley more or less at right angles to its course (Fig. 1). These dykes are about 150 ft thick on average and are spaced at about eight-mile intervals in the West Driefontein area. They penetrate both the dolomite and the Witwatersrand beds and as they are impervious to water they divide the valley into a series of large underground water compartments.
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