The Flooding at the West Driefontein Mine

Cousens, R. R. M. ; Garrett, W. S.
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 5
Publication Date: Jan 3, 1969
Discussion: L. T. Campbell Pitt: When Mr Garrett and I discussed the design and construction of plugs and bulk head doors to resist great water pressures in mines about ten years ago, we visualized an emeregeny when there would be no time for site preparation. We could not however, anticipate a problem of such magnitude and urgency as the one described in the paper under discussion. The paper very clearly describes the flooding and the measures taken to save the mine. The complete flooding would have been a national disaster. The account of the combat between man and water reads like the account of a military operation. It was an endeavour which achieved success because there was a master plan, tenacity and, in fact, heroism. The paper is of necessity a long one. In my contribution I will mention some historical facts and factors that I believe have relevance to the flooding and the saving of the mine. It is of great satisfaction to me to have been one of the two initiators of a new approach to underground plug design and construction. The investigation was taken over by a Chamber of Mines Committee which combined our early work with further research and the resulting data had a significant bearing on the West Drie emergency plug designs. The final plug length was correctly based on the requirements to obviate leakage. A plug to have structural strength only would have been very much shorter but so ineffective as to have become a waste of labour, material, and in consequence, wasted the limited time available to prevent flooding of the whole mine. The figure of 75 lb per sq in. sheer stress provided a very ample margin, in my opinion, but under the very difficult site conditions and the limitations of plug material suitable for the very unusual construction, justified such a figure. There must have been considerable temptation to reduce the safety margin due to the urgency to complete and commission the plugs, but it is much to the credit of the directors of this operation that nothing less than a safe design was permitted. In about 1945 Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mining Company, which was then mining in to the West Driefontein area to assist in early development, decided to protect themselves from a possible inrush of water from the latter mine. A bulk head door was accordingly designed and installed on 2 level between 1945 and 1948 at 4,218 ft below surface. Since West Driefontein paid for it, Gold Fields consulting mechanical engineers collaborated with their colleagues of Rand Mines who completed their design after a few modifications were agreed. This door was never used to prevent an inrush into Blyvooruitzicht but the exercise was very useful to Gold Fields when the high pressure doors initially installed on 10 and 12 levels between Nos. 2 and 3 shafts to enable isolation of one section of the mine from another were designed. At that time the capacity of West Driefontein to cope with an inrush of water was comparatively small because the storage in stoped areas and the installed pump capacity were much less than in later years. These doors together with others of the same design were later moved to the lower levels served by sub vertical shafts. In addition, doors to prevent flood water entering the pump chambers on 18 level were installed at each end of that level, and designed for a head of 360 feet so that water would have to reach 16 level before the pumps were flooded. All these doors were called upon to hold water and it is reported that only a small plug in one of the doors and a 4 in. dia flanged pipe joint failed. The lesson is that in these cases the smallest details warrant as much attention as the major ones. That these were the only equipment failures when so much depended on equipment, is very much to the credit of design engineers, both of the Gold Fields head office and companies who supplied both mechanical and electrical equipment. Until I had read the paper I wondered why the policy of isolation by bulk head doors was not continued as the development moved eastward towards the Bank Compartment and particularly when it pierced the Bank dyke. The reasons have been given in the paper. It was unreasonable to expect provisions to be made to counter the remote contingency that the large installed pumping capacity and mine capacity to store water would be exceeded during a peak inrush. When pumps were being considered for West Driefontein, it was decided that the Gold Fields standard underground main pumps at that time of 1 million gallons per 24 hours would be too small. Three alternatives were considered. 1. Very large units that would require underground sub assembly and dismantling of both pump and motor. 2. The largest pump and motor that could be conveyed as a complete pump or motor from surface to the pump chamber. 3. Pumps of higher speed to reduce dimensions and weight. It was decided to adopt alternate 2 because of avoidance of transporting pumps in parts and assembling underground. Alternative 3 was not favoured because high speeds would have introduced problems of more exact rotor balancing. I believe the decision was correct and in the crisis enabled comparative easy transport of pumps and motors to surface for overhaul and, if required, transfer to other pump stations. The standard pump thus became a 10 stage 1,500 rpm pump with a capacity of approximately 2 million gallons per 24 hours against a static head that varied
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