Ground Control For Highwall Mining
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Ground Control For Highwall Mining

  • 2005

  • Source: 2005 SME Annual Meeting, February 28 - March 2, Salt Lake City, Utah, preprint 05-82. Littleton, CO, Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc., 2005 Feb; :1-12
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      Highwall mining continues to grow in importance as a coal production method from U.S. surface mines. It may account for as much as 4% of the total U.S. coal production, according to one recent estimate. Analysis of Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) accident and injury statistics shows that, overall, highwall mining has maintained an admirable safety record. Its fatality and injury rates are comparable to those for other surface mining methods, and are significantly lower than those for underground mining. No mining method is risk free, however. Highwall mining injuries have been associated with handling materials, slips and falls, machinery, powered haulage, and other types of incidents. But perhaps the greatest risk, to both personnel and equipment, is from ground control. The two most significant ground control hazards are rock falls from the highwall and equipment entrapment underground. Highwall Stability Ensuring highwall stability through proper ground control engineering is of paramount importance to safe highwall mining operations. The only fatality to occur during the last five years at a highwall mining operation was due to highwall collapse. There have also been numerous near-misses, several of which have involved extensive damage to equipment. In the central Appalachians, where the majority of highwall mining occurs in the U.S., hillseams are the most prominent geologic structures that affect highwall stability. Hillseams (or mountain cracks) are near vertical fractures in the rock that are formed in response to natural weathering and erosion of hillsides. They extend hundreds of feet down from the surface. They typically run parallel to the hillside, but they can also extend across narrow points or ridge lines. The hazard arises when rock slabs that form along the hillseams detach and fall away from the highwall face (See Figure 1). [ ] Unfortunately, it is impossible to control the location of hillseams or reliably detect their presence within a highwall. There are, however, a number of measures that can be taken to minimize the risk of failure associated with hillseams: Planning-Most operators choose to skip those areas of the highwall where a prominent hillseam daylights (See Figure 2). Existence of such areas is known for several weeks in advance of highwall mining; therefore, planning engineers can adjust the layout of highwall mining panels to locate barrier pillars within areas of questionable highwall stability. [ ] Inspection and monitoring-Daily inspection of the benches above the active highwall mining area is a prudent precautionary measure. A crack in a bench immediately above a highwall miner is shown in Figure 3. Simple displacement monitors may be useful for detecting movement along cracks that may precede a significant life-threatening failure. New tools, such as slope monitoring radar, may also prove useful in detecting motion of the rock slopes above active highwall mining operations. Good blasting practice-Most surface coal miners in the central Appalachians use pre-splitting and the familiar halfbarrels are routinely seen throughout the pits. Shorter delays along the face and longer delays between rows can direct more of the blast force parallel to the face, potentially doing less damage to the wall rock. In addition to pre-splitting, decreasing the burden, spacing and charge weight in drill holes close to the highwall will also decrease damage to the wall rock. Decreasing the highwall slope angle-Decreasing the highwall slope angle from 90° (vertical) to 70°-80°, especially in areas of known hillseam concentration, could eliminate the hillseam hazard (See Figure 4). Angled highwalls are routinely employed in many Midwestern surface mines and in some
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