Rio Tinto’s Hunter Valley Operations is a large open pit coalmine situated in the heart of the Hunter Valley in Australia. The Riverview West Pit has faced increasing production challenges in recent times due to decreasing dragline strike lengths and increasing environmental constraints on vibration, overpressure and fume generation. Conventional mining techniques would involve five to six production blasts per strip to recover multiple coal seams. Each blast event carries the risk of exceeding the strict environmental requirements. By working collaboratively with Orica, it was realised that the blasting method known as Stratablast™, in conjunction with advanced computer modelling techniques, could provide productivity gains whilst simultaneously providing more control over the environmental effects and the impact on nearby infrastructure.
As a result of this change, the number of blasts per strip was reduced to one, with the implication that a great deal of care and forethought was needed to manage the increased challenge posed by multiple constraints in the proposed mining area. This innovative approach of combining throw and stand-up blasts allowed the extraction of all major coal seams in a single pass blast event. The blasts were initially designed with a large factor of safety to stay within environmental limits as they were over 1.1 km in strike length, with more than 800 holes and with a total charge weight of about 1000 t of bulk explosives. Furthermore, there were conflicting priorities around the desired blast outcomes. So far, 11 such blasts have been designed and successfully fired. After each blast, innovative design changes have been iteratively implemented to provide further control over environmental impacts, whilst continuing to improve productivity. As a result of these changes, blasts have progressively increased in complexity with the inclusion of features such as damage zones, mid-splitting, time gaps and different directions of firing. The consequence of this complexity is that the blast duration can be as long as 28 seconds to accommodate all components of the blast.
This project has increased the productivity of the Riverview West Pit through blast design improvements and allowed the environmental impacts to be managed with far more control and predictability than would have been possible under a conventional blasting regime. There still remains room for further optimisation of mine productivity and this is being addressed through a process of continuous improvement.
Goswami, T, Martin, E, Rothery, M and Genge, D, 2015. A holistic approach to managing blast outcomes, in Proceedings 11th International Symposium on Rock Fragmentation by Blasting, pp 645–654 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).