|Super Pit gold mine, Kalgoorlie/Boulder, Western Australia|
Geotechnical Engineering has become an integral part of mine operations fairly recently. Three decades ago, very few mines employed site based geotechnical engineers, geotechnical design and operational support were primarily carried out by specialized consultancies and/or research institutions.
Nowadays, global mining companies develop in-house geotechnical expertise at corporate and mine levels and hire consultants to undertake mining project studies or assist in solving specific ground engineering problems. This important change was brought about by strict mine safety regulations enacted in 1990ties and gradual recognition by the mining community of the value of ground engineering in optimizing mine design and managing the geotechnical risks.
While majority of the mining companies have already established geotechnical capabilities, many are yet to develop or upgrade them. This article aims to increase awareness of the role and importance of geotechnical engineering in mining.
|Drilling at the Filo del Sol project in Chile’s Atacama region. Credit: Filo Mining.|
|A typical Mine Technical Services setup and key responsibilities|
of technical functions
Geotechnical Engineering and Risk Management. A loss of the ground control due to poor consideration of geotechnical conditions atthe design stage and/or a lack of proactive ground engineering during mine operations may lead to failures, here are some examples:
•Bench and slope failures
•Uncontrolled falls of ground
•Rock bursts and other mine induced seismic events
•Sill and crown pillar failures
•Failures of stopes, ore passes or shafts
•In rushes of unconsolidated ground, back fill or water
Delays caused by localized geotechnical failures defer revenue generation and disturb the planned work activities. Significant geotechnical failures can lead to a loss of access to the resource and loss of equipment, resulting in a lengthy mine shutdownand costly recovery efforts. Permanent closure of the mining operations is also possible in the event of a catastrophic geotechnical failure threatening public safety,infrastructure and the environment.
In concluding, the value that geotechnical engineering can add to mine planning and operational processes should not be underestimated. The mines that get their ground engineering right are able to minimize practical geotechnical difficulties and achieve efficient and safe ore extraction.