The final instalment of Gregory More O'Ferrall's insights into how rock engineering is conducted in a consulting practice in Canada tells about a visit to a site in the province of Alberta, the oil sands province of Canada (Site C).
This project site is an operating coal mine in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Range. A total of two days were spent on site, therefore there is nothing substantial to report on, but I deemed this site interesting as the stratigraphy is really folded here, albeit not as spectacular as that I saw in the Meiringspoort gorge in the Swartberg Mountain Range between Klaarstroom and De Rust.
The trip to site was nothing spectacular, but I did find a place on earth that is flatter than both the Free State and the Karoo as a result of it. I looked towards the sunset on the two-hour return trip to Vancouver from Calgary and could not see a slight bump anywhere on the horizon. I am sure that, east of Calgary, the next mountains that break the horizon will likely be the Alps.
We boarded a 14-seater twin-prop plane to Grande Prairie and I saw small square clearings in the plantations along the route. I was informed that those housed oil derricks, which I eventually got to see when we were travelling between Grande Prairie and Grande Cache.
Once landing in Grande Prairie, which has only one runway, which is just long enough to land a Boeing 737, we hired a Jeep. (At least it didn't break down for the three days that we had it – unlike that belonging to a senior Anglogold Ashanti Rock Engineer with an Irish surname...) We then drove back south to Grande Cache.
We booked into one of two the hotels in Grande Cache. This town is similar in size to Vaal Reefs or Kriel (back in 1988). The following morning, I was in for a surprise. It continued to snow overnight, and my duty before we left the hotel in the mornings was to scrape the ice from the windows and the door frames so that we could get into the car and then see through the iced windows. The temperature was a scorching -15°C.
The General Manager expected us to be at the mine at 06:00, but with the restaurant opening for breakfast at 07:00, he was in for a surprise. (Actually, he arranged for us to go to site, and then wasn't even there for the week during which we were at site. He only informed three other people that we would be there, so we had a rather frustrating site visit). Lunch was bought en-route to the mine at the local Subway, as the mine is 30 km out of town and there is no canteen or cafeteria close to the mine.
When we arrived at the mine, I saw "white" coal for the first time. This coal was already loaded into wagons to be transported to the coal terminal at the coast. Needless to say, the train must have been waiting for quite some time.
The mine offices are nothing spectacular (not much brick and mortar gets used in Canada), but they were cosy enough inside. The building houses the mine's main office, the clinic, security, surface mining office, surface technical services offices, senior management and plant personnel.
The first day was spent trying to collect appropriate geotechnical data. There is very little available on site or in the main head office in Calgary. We also went underground. There are no photographs of the underground mine site or workings, as I did not receive permission from the Provincial Mining Legislator to use my waterproof camera. (It has to be intrinsically safe.)
However, much to my surprise, and theirs, I came across a few Afrikaans-speaking South Africans in the underground mine offices (a secretary with the surname Erasmus, a Ventilation Officer, and the Technical Superintendent, Etienne Cronje who was an ex-Sasol Shift Boss). Etienne only realized at the end of the visit, when I spoke to him in Afrikaans, that I was a South African. His response was the typical: "My f*k". The snow must have numbed his brain as he did not pick up my South African accent.
Unfortunately, I made a huge mistake. When asked what size shoe I wear, I replied a 9 ½. I forgot that I was in North America, and they go according to US sizes. Therefore I was given a 9 ½ gumboot, which I at first thought must be a slightly narrower than those we have "back home". I thought I'd get used to it soon enough.
The next thing I did wrong, when I saw that our underground "tour guide" was an overweight surveyor, was to say that I wanted to visit every working face in the mine – hoping that he would somehow shed the extra weight during our "tour", which was all by foot. The "tour" lasted four hours, and had us walking up inclinations of up to 20 degrees (the continuous miners are tracked, and therefore can manoeuvre up these gradients). So, Big Mouth himself had huge blood blisters on his feet at the end of the day, and I did not notice any evidence of the surveyor having lost any weight. I will not make the mistake of wearing small gumboots again!
That evening we had dinner in a different restaurant, where I met yet another ex-South African who works at the mine (the Metallurgical Manager).
The second morning was slightly colder than the first: -17°C. It was forecast that the sun would break through mid-morning, which it did. After the breakfast and lunch-purchasing ritual, we headed back to the mine (saying good-bye to Grande Cache). This, the second day of the site visit, was the surface mining "tour".
I managed to see some wildlife on the way to the first "viewpoint". This wildlife comprised of elk and long-horned mountain sheep (they apparently have an affinity for coal. So, all you big hunters out there – head over to Grande Cache to shoot your long-horned mountain sheep on the coal dumps of the collieries
What made this site visit interesting for me was the geology. The folding in the foothills of the Rockies is quite phenomenal.
Also, I have always liked the "big boys' toys" in evidence at surface mining operations. I was not disappointed during this visit. I got to see the biggest front-end loader that I have yet seen. It featured chains on the tyres to enable it to drive on the icy roads in the snow.
One of my favourite geological photographs is of a pit that is being backfilled. Of interest, is that this pit was stopped by the Technical Services Department for safety reasons. As usual, trying to get the last ton of coal, an attempt was made to load the coal adjacent to the lower bench (bench height is 10 metres). A slab dislodged from the bench, falling on top of the loader. Fortunately, the driver jumped off the machine in time. The loader was buried. Only then was the pit stopped and were backfilling operations implemented. That was a very expensive last ton of coal, which could have been for more costly - emotionally, psychologically and financially.
This concludes the trilogy of more interesting site visits that I have conducted in North and West Canada in the 18 months that I have been living and working in Canada. I trust that you have enjoyed reading about these. I more more ex- and current Sanire members will follow suit.
|Location of project site C in relation to Vancouver.|
|Folded Table Mountain sandstone in the Meiringspoort gorge.|
|Which vehicle is ours?.|
|Snow-capped coal wagons and mine parking lot.|
|We took a “swim” in black water and mud from the car park to the office building.|
|Sunset in Grande Cache. The main road running through town is in the foreground – no tar.|
|Folds at the mountain top|
|A BIG toy.|
|Some more toys.|
|View of a benched slope and the valley beyond|
|Some Sanire members may remember a Hollander by the name of Carel van Eendenburg. He was one of the three AMEC employees on the mine visit and is seen here on the right, walking on top of the largest waste dump on site. Those gumboots are versatile!|
|Solar power is the first mode of power for the remote slope stability monitoring stations. When cloud cover lasts longer than two days, wind turbines provide a back-up power supply to charge the batteries. The monitoring station on the right has been installed to monitor the stability of a mudwall, on which prisms have been placed on selected benches. There is a large tensile fracture at the top of the mudwall; hence the bench heights are smaller than for the rock walls.|
|Different bench configurations based on geotechnical variances|
|I was pleasantly surprised to see the different geometries of the coal seams, and just as surprised to hear that it is still profitable to mine these seams using an opencast mining method.|
|Location of a fall of ground accident. There is currently ice on the pit floor.|
|Syncline in highwall|
Gregory More O’Ferrall’s insights into how rock engineering is conducted in a consulting practice in Canada continue with the story of an autumn site visit in the Yukon Territory (Site B).
This site visit took place at the end of August 2012, so there was not so much snow on the ground, although I was really prepared for the cold weather. The site is a Sedimentary Exhalative (SEDEX) deposit in the Selwyn Valley of the YukonTerritory.
This time, when flying into Whitehorse, I actually got to see the "booming metropolis", which is probably about the size of Stilfontein or Brits.
The following morning had those of us who were going to the campsite, including Stephen Godden, who is known to a few of the "older" generation in the Rock Engineering discipline, loaded into a Cessna Caravan fixed wing aircraft for a two-hour flight. Visibility was zero for almost three quarters of the flight, and my sitting next to the pilot did not help me to relax, as he was flying purely on instrumentation (I had heard horror stories of similar trips that did not have a good ending) and regularly checking the ice buildup on the wings. We finally landed on a temporary landing strip built at the campsite.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that not all of the North is under snow all of the time. However, as you will see in the following figure, the weather changes rapidly in this part of the world, particularly towards the end of summer. Pictures 3 a, b and c are of the same mountain, one taken when we arrived, the next the following morning, and the final one that same afternoon.
The people in the camp were very friendly and hospitable. When I was speaking to the two First Nations camp maintenance personnel, they asked me where I was from. When I mentioned that I was South African, they had a very difficult time believing me, stating that I was a white, and therefore not from Africa. Apparently they had previously come across a South African at the camp site who “had a skin colour like ours”. I then spent the next 30 minutes giving them an extremely brief history on South Africa and why it is known as the Rainbow Nation.
The camp comprised two-sleeper tents, with bar heaters, for the personnel, tents for the geology and camp management personnel, a tented dining room (which served as a meeting room for the daily early morning safety and camp maintenance schedule – preparing to “winterise” the camp - meetings), tented showers and laundry area, tented kitchen and “lounge”, tented core logging “shed”, and two wooden long-drop latrines (fortunately/unfortunately with heaters that were on all the time – thank goodness for air freshener sprays!). There were very few lights on around the camp at night, so going for a “midnight walk” was pretty scary, as this is grizzly bear territory and it was really dark – although I was informed that the last of the bears should have passed by about two weeks ago. A Grizzly Bear’s top running speed is 56 km/h, so there was absolutely no way that I was going to outrun it. I had an escape plan, which would result in my having to soak in disinfectant for many days afterwards – but thankfully that never had to be implemented.
As I mentioned previously, the site is a Sedimentary Exhalative (SEDEX) deposit. To quote Mineral Deposits of Canada, published by the Geological Association of Canada Mineral Deposits Division, “These types of deposits are generally tabular bodies composed predominantly of zinc, lead and silver bound in sphalerite and galena that occur interbedded with iron sulphides and basinal sedimentary rocks, that were deposited on the seafloor and in associated sub-seafloor vent complexes from hydrothermal fluids vented into mostly reduced sedimentary basins in continental rifts”
Here is a simpler explanation from an article by Lea Michele Toovey at http://copperinvestingnews.com), for those of us who are not geologists: “There are variances in the manner of how SEDEX deposits are formed; however, the general process is the same. They are formed when ore bearing fluids discharge onto a seafloor and mix with seawater. When the two fluids mix, a variety of chemical processes take place that result in the precipitation of minerals on the seafloor. These deposits are lain down congruent with the stratigraphy of the seafloor, and are fine grained and finely laminated- characteristics of “sedimentary deposits.” Concentrated amounts of minerals can be found in “trap sites,” which are depressed areas of the ocean floor where the minerals may settle. Occasionally, mineralization develops in the faults and feeder conduits that fed the mineralizing system.”
The deposit on which I was conducting the geotechnical study is described as: the deposit is saucer-shaped and tapers gradually laterally for distances of several kilometers. This deposit is probably not spatially associated with hydrothermal seafloor vent, but by the basin morphology within which hydrothermal metalliferous fluids formed brine pools similar to Atlantis II and Discovery Deeps in the Red Sea.
South Africa and Namibia also have a few “super” SEDEX deposits.
Some of the pictures included here show how the hydrothermal vent plumes along a weak plane during the settlement of the mud on the floor of the basin. In very simple terms, the water trapped beneath the mud is moving towards the surface of the basin along a weak plane.
This project is probably the most challenging that I have ever worked on, with a variation in rock strengths over very short intervals ranging from a couple of centimetres to metres, and the orebody depth varying from 200 metres below surface (mbs) to 750 mbs. It also featured some of the most picturesque rock that I have seen.
The reason for this trip was to get an understanding of the geology, the nature of the orebody and host rock and to evaluate the only underground exposure on the mine, which was mined as a trial mining venture in the early 1980s. Therefore, it was back to the drawing board for me.
The project site comprises two camps, with only the one being inhabited. The former had heaters. At the latter, 12 km and two hour by 4x4 further up the valley, my logging time was restricted by how long I could withstand having my gloves off my hands.
After seeing the camp on the way to our “underground visit”, knowing that I had to go and log core (there is no shed, so it is done on the ground) I was pretty nervous. What a pleasant surprise to find that most of the snow had melted overnight. It was bitterly cold initially, warming up around noon and getting cold again from around 14:00. I was fetched from the camp at around 16:00, as the weather was starting to close in again.
As I mentioned previously, this is grizzly bear country, so, in the field you are equipped with bear spray (pepper spray), bangers (loud fireworks) and a two-way radio.
As it was, I came across a really “terrifying” animal that had me quivering in my boots. A gopher appears to be some sort of ground squirrel – but with attitude. When I was dropped off to log the core, I heard strange chirping noises. Then it “attacked” me. I at first thought there was one, but that was the call to the others that a “visitor/intruder” was in camp. My boots got the smelling over, to determine whether or not they were edible, but thankfully they were passed over as being not too tasty.
However, the same cannot be said for the lunch that I had brought for myself. I hid it between two core trays, but while I was logging the core, one of the gophers managed to get between the core and the bottom of the overlying core tray and ate it. When all the food was gone, it actually had the cheek to call for more.
I was fortunate enough to come across a few moose on the way back to camp – a bull and two cows. Apparently these are deer with a bad attitude, particularly in mating season (which it was) – not quite as bad as the African buffalo, but a close second.
The underground visit at this project site was even more of a trip to King Solomon’s Mines than that at the first site. Unfortunately, we were only able to walk 200 metres into the adit before the oxygen level got dangerously low. We were accompanied by one of two independent mining engineers in the Yukon. You have to be accompanied by a Mining Engineer, who does the barring/scaling and tests for gases before you may enter the working place.. The two mining engineers have a full-time job going to project sites to ensure that the underground excavations are safe for visitors and mine personnel to enter and make safe. There is obviously scope for somebody seeking to start their own business of “making safe” in the Yukon Territory mines. Apparently a “large fall of ground” had occurred in the tunnel about 50 metres further on, and the groundwater had dammed up behind this. Visibility in the adit was approximately 15 metres at the most, so I could not confirm this.
The underground visit was not that impressive. The tunnel dimensions were approximately 3 m square. The occasional rockbolt was installed and the tunnel was not too jointed. There were some open joints, in which crystal growth had occurred, showing that the rock mass was in tension at some stage.
The changing colours during the time I was at the site were absolutely breathtaking. I was also privileged, yet disappointed at the same time, to witness the Northern Lights on the only clear night that we had in camp - the second last night. After seeing the aurora on the Discovery Channel on MNet, I was looking forward to the spectacular colour show. The “lights” danced across the horizon above the mountains, and had various shades of green. I watched them until 2:00, while standing outside my tent.
The last night at camp had a really lovely sunset, the only one that I had been able to see, as it was neither raining nor snowing. I loved seeing the sunrays through the breaks in the cloud. Talk about savouring the sun! You don’t get to see it too often in Vancouver.
After ten days at site, the flight back to Whitehorse brought back some geography lessons from primary school. I had only seen sketches of oxbow lakes in textbooks until then.
This was a truly wonderful educational and life-enhancing experience, and one I thought worthwhile sharing with you.
|Location of project Site B in relation to Vancouver.|
|Safely on the ground at the camp site.|
Sudden change in weather conditions
|Buildings at main campsite.|
|Super SEDEX deposits in Africa.|
|A hydrothermal plume in mudstone. I have no idea as to what mineral the orange is. (It is not wax.)|
|Boy, was I in for a lesson in geology! A sample from a split core.|
|Siliceous mudstone within carbonaceous mudstone (degraded from being exposed to the elements).|
|Some interesting core. The orange in the photograph above is from a wax core marking pen.|
|Fissile laminations within the Flaggy Mudstone.|
|Thank goodness for heaters, warm clothes and lighting. I geotechnically assessed in excess of 3 000 m of core in 7 days, only restricted by the availability of camp staff to help replace the core trays. They work “normal” working hours.|
|The upper camp in Selwyn Valley on two consecutive days.|
|Protection against grizzly bears and a gopher – cute, but wily|
|Tiring business, stealing the lunch. I wonder if there is any more somewhere around here?|
|A bull moose alongside the road to the lower camp.|
|Entrance to the underground mine. Note the mountain stream in the photograph on the left, which has to be crossed in order to get onto the ladderway to the adit entrance.|
|Installed rockbolt and crystal growth in the tunnel.|
|God’s canvas: Fall colours in the Yukon Territory.|
|Sunset in the Selwyn Valley|
|Formation of oxbow lakes.|
After 18 months in Vancouver, Gregory More O'Ferrall provides an insight into how rock engineering (known as ground control/geotechnical engineering in Canada) is conducted in a consulting practice on the other side of the world to South Africa. He starts with the story of a site visit in the Tulsequah Valley in Northern British Columbia (Site A).
This was my very first project site visit in Canada, which took place in February 2012. Talk about a shock to the African body. I was informed that the temperature at site was a whopping -25°C, and could reach -50°C if the wind was blowing. Luckily, the person to whom I was reporting at the time was accustomed to such severe conditions, having been in the Canadian Special Forces and in charge of training the US Marine Corp for Arctic warfare. He gave me some helpful tips. As a result, I was really much warmer than I was in the harsh Highveld winter mornings in Johannesburg or Pretoria.
After landing in Whitehorse, I was driven along the Great Alaskan Highway for approximately two hours before heading towards a town on the shore of Lake Atlin, which is 6,4 km wide and 92 km long. I was informed that they have lovely sunset cruises on the lake in summer... but apparently the summer is only about six weeks long, then the lake starts to freeze over again.
We spent a night in Atlin before flying to site by helicopter. An hour and a half of flying over snow-capped mountains and glaciers brought us to the exploration camp.
When the pilot mentioned that we were approaching the camp site, I initially thought she was joking, as I did not see it from where I was sitting at the front of the helicopter. When I did eventually see the camp, I thought that I must have done something wrong in a previous lifetime to have to be exposed to this.
However, a surprise awaited me when I eventually got into the camp buildings. The buildings were heated, and my sleeping bag that is rated to -30°C stayed rolled up during our stay. I slept on top of the sheet on the bunk bed, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt. It was not the same outdoors, though.
There were a total of 8 people in the camp, including the chef and maintenance staff. I really felt for the assistants, who spent three days taking core out from beneath 5 m of snow, just so that I could get an appreciation of what the orebody and host rock looked like. My biggest challenge in getting to look at the core was trying to get it out of the core trays, as it had completely frozen. A portable heater and a geology pick eventually did the trick. At least the core shed had a bar heater in it, so time exposed to the cold was limited.
Going underground at this site was a totally different experience for me. This mine was last mined in 1957, making use of longhole open stoping methods. The underground mine is accessed via two adits, which to me looked like a film set on one of the Indiana Jones movies – except that it was very, very cold. (I could not keep my hands out of the gloves for more than a minute at a time.)
Getting underground was not a simple case of "just walking in". There was a lot of white stuff to get through first. I was mighty pleased that snow is not as sticky as the mud that I sometimes trudged through in the underground operations back in South Africa. The snow came up to groin height at times, but eventually we managed to get underground.
The entrance to the adits was well-supported with timber lagging and steel tendons, which worked very well in supporting the "overburden".
The underground visit was very informative, considering that very little support had been installed (a total of approximately six tendons in the 2.5 km of tunnels, with the occasional timber sets). These excavations have remained stable for almost 60 years after mining operations ceased and no falls of ground have occurred in the tunnels since then. (There was no evidence of rocks on the rails or elsewhere.)
Getting "back to surface", was no easy feat. The door had frozen closed while we were underground. After some hammering, we eventually managed to exit the mine.
When I made my move from Vaal Reefs Gold Mine to Lonmin Platinum, I often said that you could not get better scenery than the Magaliesberg mountain range when coming up from underground. However, I think I topped that with this expedition.
As with most properties in the northern parts of Canada, the environment is very sensitive, and therefore a long licensing process has to take place before an exploration and mining permit is awarded.
The river running in front of the mine property is one of a few salmon breeding rivers in Northern British Columbia, therefore any acid-generating mine water has to be treated, at a high financial cost. This treatment has to ensure that the quality of the water being discharged into the river is better than that already in the river.
Another issue facing the potential mine is that equipment is currently transported by barge in summer or flown into site when the camp is open during winter. However, there are plans to build a 300 km road through the mountains to allow equipment to be delivered by road. This will entail the mine owners triggering avalanches along the route so that the risk of unexpected road closures or accidents resulting from avalanches is minimised.
Obviously, in remote areas such as this, staffing of the operation may be an issue, particularly when looking for skilled operators.
|Location of Site A in relation to the Alaskan border.|
|View of a suburb and the ski slopes outside Whitehorse.|
|Pleasure boat on Lake Atlin shore.|
The only restaurant in Atlin (population 300-500). It is rather tricky getting there without slipping on the ice.
|Glacier at the lower end of Lake Atlin.|
|Approach into the exploration camp and close-up of the camp.|
|Roads in the camp need to be graded daily.|
|Approaching the adit.|
|Location of second adit lower down the mountain.|
|Entrances to the two adits.|
|Frozen groundwater inflow close to the adit entrance.|
|Wooden boxfront at drawpoint.|
|Leaving the adit entrance.|
|View from the entrance of the upper adit.|
|Water treatment plant alongside the river.|
|The road will be built in the valley.|
|Dave West, a rock engineering consultant who worked in Zambia in his heyday and now lives in Sudbury, Ontario.|
Each year, Sanire recognises the achievements of rock engineering practitioners, doyens of the industry of have recorded a lifetime of achievement in this demanding field, and those who have done well in the Chamber of Mines exams.
This year, Prof Nielen van der Merwe, Dr Oscar Steffen and Dr Gerrie van Aswegen were made Honourary Life Fellows; the Salamon Award went to Dr John Napier and Prof Francois Malan; the 2012 Practitioner of the Year was Mr Rocco Human; and the following candidates in the Chamber of Mines exams received awards:
• Jean-Michel van der Merwe (Candidate – SCM, 100%)
• Dr David P Roberts (Candidate – Paper 3.1, 88%)
• Omberai Mandingaisa (Candidate – SCM, 81%)
• Buntu B Tati (Candidate – Paper 3.1, 81%)
• Buntu B Tati (Candidate – Paper 1, 78%)
• Thapelo W Chauke (Candidate – Paper 2, 78%)
• Ryno Muller (Candidate – Paper 2, 77%)
This is Sanire’s most prestigious award and is awarded to people who have made a lasting technical contribution to the field of rock mechanics. It may be awarded to people from academic environments, the practical side of rock mechanics or those who were instrumental in implementing new rock mechanics knowledge or techniques in the workplace. The efforts of those who managed to grow rock mechanics departments through the marketing of the discipline to mine management and elsewhere through managerial contributions will also be considered. It is typically awarded to individuals in a mature stage of their career with a long and distinguished track record in rock mechanics.
Prof Nielen van der Merwe has clocked up 30 years in the rock engineering fraternity and is still at it. He was instrumental in putting South African rock engineering back on the international map after years of isolation and became the President of the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM) in 2003 – the first African in history to hold this prestigious position. Another career highlight is his technical work in the coal mining industry and the important contribution he made by writing a book with Bernard Madden, on coal mining rock mechanics. He created rock engineering departments for Becsa and Sasol and was the Programme Manager, Rock Engineering, at CSIR Mining Technology. He was instrumental in transforming Sangorm into Sanire and headed up Mining Engineering at the University of Pretoria for seven years. He is currently the Professor holding the Centennial Chair for Rock Engineering at Wits and the Interim Director of the Wits Mining Research Institute. This is just a fraction of what he has achieved thus far.
Dr Oskar Steffen been involved in open pit mine planning and the stability of rock slopes since the early 60s and has published extensively on these subjects. He is a founding member of the SRK Group and was directly involved in reviewing open pit disasters at Nchanga Mine in Zambia and Chuquicamata Mine in Chile. He is valued for his skill in risk assessment techniques for defining the probablility of geotechnical failure in open pits. In the past, he has received a gold medal from the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), a geotechnical gold medal from the South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE) and the Brigadier Stokes Award from the SAIMM. He is also a Past President of the SAIMM.
Dr Gerrie van Aswegen has championed many studies of active faulting and fracturing in deep gold mines, mentored many a young seismologist. He made the ideal of routine seismic hazard assessment practical and implementable on mines. His passion for brittle fracturing and the dynamic response of the rockmass has enlightened many and sparked a similar passion in them. He has spent a lifetime in the service of rock engineering and is one of the hardest working individuals in the rock engineering fraternity.
This award is made to a practising rock engineer who made a sustained practical contribution in the workplace, but is not predisposed to publication and presentation at conferences or meetings.
Rocco Human, this year’s recipient, has contributed in all aspects of rock engineering through the years. He has developed his rock engineering skills both from a theoretical and practical point of view and used these skills for the benefit of industry.
He is also well regarded among his peers and is regularly included in the rock engineering practical evaluation committee and regularly presents his work at local Sanire symposia and branch meetings. Rocco is also rated one of the best strata control mentors in the Free State considering the large number of trainee strata control officers who train under him who go on to become qualified strata control officers.
The Salamon prize is awarded once a year to a South African author(s) of the best paper published during the preceding year. Although preference is given to papers published in accredited refereed journals, outstanding papers in conference proceedings are also considered.
Prof Nielen van der Merwe is congrutlated by Les Gardner on becoming an Honourary Life Fellow.
Les Gardner congratulates Dr Oskar Steffen on becoming an Honourary Life Fellow.
|Honourary Life Fellow Dr Gerrie van Aswegen|
Recipients of the Salamon Award, Prof Francois Malan (left) and Dr John Napier (right) with Les Gardner (middle)
Les Gardner congratulates the 2012 Practitioner of the Year, Rocco Human
|Jean-Michel van der Merwe (Candidate - SCM, 100%)
|Buntu Tati (Candidate - Paper 1, 78% and Paper 3.1, 81%)
|Dr David P Roberts (Candidate - Paper 3.1, 88%)
|Omberai Mandingaisa (Candidate - SCM, 81%)
|Thapelo Chauke (Candidate - Paper 2, 78%)
The idyllic surroundings of Casa Mia Country Estate, just east of Cullinan, provided welcome respite to delegates weathering troubled times in the mining industry.
|The proceedings ran smoothly in the main hall at Casa Mia.|
The turnout for the 2012 Sanire symposium remained good, with 112 registered delegates, 10 speakers and nine suppliers' exhibition stands. This despite the fact that the Gauteng Branch hosted the symposium, titled Mechanica Saxorum, in October 2012, just weeks after the height of last year's labour unrest.
In his keynote address, Francois Malan, Senior Consultant to Goldfields, reminded the audience that labour unrest is nothing new to the mining industry. Reflecting on past events, Francois led the audience on a journey through the current challenges and opportunities in the South African rock engineering community.
Dr Ray Durrheim of the CSIR was chosen as the best speaker. His excellent talk examined the history of endeavours to mitigate the risks posed by mining seismicity in the Witwatersrand basin.
The day closed with an interactive workshop. Topical issues like roles and responsibilities in rock engineering and the future of formalised qualifications in rock engineering competency generated heated debate.
It is with pleasure that we announce the results of the election for SANIRE council members for the period July 2013 to June 2015. The elected council members are as follows:
Despite being re-elected, Dave Arnold has announced his intention to step down as an elected council member in the interest of bringing "new blood" onto the council. Dave will however remain as a co-opted member of council. Robert Armstrong and Jody Thompson obtained (equally) the next highest number of votes, and so have both been elected to council.
Click on the following link to read the full ISRM newsletter: : http://www.isrm.net/adm/newsletter/ver_html.php?id_newsletter=78&ver=1
The South African National Institute of Rock Engineering wishes you a safe, happy and peaceful festive season.
Kindly note our offices will be closed as from 20 December 2012 and will re-open on 3 January 2013.
Needy Free State communities are 152 trees richer thanks to Sanire and Food and Trees for Africa. Read the details of this shady operation here.
Beneficiaries in Welkom who had applied to Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA) were delighted to receive a generous donation from Sanire.
Thirty-one of the indigenous trees Sanire donated were planted during a special ceremony at Moremaphofu Primary School in Thabong, Welkom on 26 September 2012.
FTFA Ecopreneur Mookho Letshokgohla delivered an environmental speech, explaining the benefits of trees and emphasising the importance of taking care of these precious gifts. Mookho planted one tree in front of the audience to demonstrate how to do it correctly. The rest of the trees were then planted by the learners, supervised by some of the educators.
Sanire Chairman Johan van der Merwe said: "We are also a non-profit organisation but we have decided that, from the little that we get, we must also give back to the community."
Thirty more trees were planted at Daluvuyo Public School, 31 at Bofihla Primary School, 30 at Thembekile Primary School, and 30 at Dr Mngoma Primary School, all in Welkom.
[photo credit] This photograph courtesy of http://bit.ly/PSjJj2, where more photographs of the event are also available for viewing.
Leadership, skills and engagement were the key themes during the MineSAFE 2012 Conference, held at Emperors Palace in early August. Jeane Matsobane, a Strata Control Officer from Anglo Platinum, received an award at the associated Industry Award Day and mentioned how the Rock Engineering Certificate Course has impacted her career. Find out more about the conference here.
The annual MineSAFE Conference was a major success, drawing more than 600 delegates over the two-day Technical Conference and about 870 guests for the Industry Award Day.
Held from 1-3 August 2012 at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg, this year's conference focused primarily on the Mining Charter, acting as a platform for learning and sharing solutions. Health and safety have been included in the Mining Charter since 2010 and is a priority for all stakeholders.
This was reflected in the overall tone of the conference, which saw a balance between technical solutions and human sciences and was most accurately summed up by Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu in her keynote address during the Industry Day: "Historically, the drive to improve mine health and safety was focused on improvements in engineering or design controls. An improved culture in health and safety matters is now recognised as the single most important factor – and indeed central – to achieving zero harm in the mining industry."
In support of this, key themes emerged throughout the conference – one of which was the important role that leadership plays in transforming the health and safety culture at the mine. David Msiza, Chief Inspector of Mines in the Department of Mineral Resources listed visible felt leadership as a key focus area for the department and Navin Singh indicated that leadership is one of the five pillars on which the Mine Health and Safety Council is focusing on during 2012. Leadership also frequently came up in during the various discussion sessions held throughout the conference.
Another key issue that emerged was that of building relationships through communication and engagement. Peter Bailey, Health and Safety National Chairperson of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) summed up the sentiments of workers when he said: "Nothing about us, without us," calling for greater engagement with union leaders when drawing up strategies and solutions.
Bailey further urged industry to learn from past mistakes in an effort to reduce repeat incidents and also raised concern about the secondary position health issues seem to take when it comes to zero harm efforts. Data on health issues, in particular, remained a challenge. "The Department of Health and the Department of Mineral Resources need to intervene to establish a centralised data point," he said, adding that this would help stakeholders to identify the full extent of the challenges posed by occupational diseases and to come up with effective strategies.
The discussions around engagement also extended to a national level, with all speakers expressing the importance of the tripartite alliance in the journey to zero harm.
Although the challenges represented by the enforcement of Section 54 instructions were recognised, both Xolile Mbonambi and Minister fiercely defended the work of the Mine Inspectorate, noting that the department remains unapologetic in its uncompromising stance on the health and safety of workers.
"We hope that the future will hold less Section 54s being issued, but this cannot come at the expense of the life of a mineworker," said Minister Shabangu. She urged all stakeholders to move away from issues of litigation and focus on working together to achieve the goal of zero harm.
The need for skills development was also a recurring theme throughout the conference, particularly the need to effectively train health and safety representatives. The Chamber of Mines has committed to training 40 000 new health and safety representatives and is making great strides in finding innovative methods to train employees in the workplace.
Skills development is also a key issue for Minister Shabangu, who made particular mention of Certificates of Competency and the need to make the industry more accessible to other sectors of the population, particularly women. In reference to women in mining, noted the increased presence of women at the MineSAFE Conference.
Recognition of the strides the industry has made in reducing injuries and incidents, various MineSAFE Awards were handed out during the Industry Day. The MineSAFE Awards are awarded based on the most improved Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate during the year.
For more information about the conference and a detailed list of the awards made, please visit www.saimm.co.za
|Rock Engineering certificate praised
Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu. She was particularly pleased to hand over a Merit Award to one of the women who had made a positive contribution to the mining industry. Jeane Matsobane, a Strata Control Officer from Anglo Platinum received the award from the Minister and spoke about the impact that the Rock Engineering Certificate Course has had on her career.
Sanire President Les Gardner sees both hope and destructive fury in the stormy state of the South African mining industry. He wishes you a peaceful break from the tumult and a revitalised return to the fray, ready grasp the opportunities that accompany adversity.
Dear Sanire colleagues
As I sit writing this year-end message, there is a thunderstorm raging outside. Nature is showing off all her tumultuous power – brilliant lightning flashes are interspersed with booming thunder as the rain pelts down, accompanied by the odd hailstone. Such a thunderstorm is perhaps an apt metaphor for describing the events that our mining industry has witnessed over the past year.
In his excellent keynote address at the recent Sanire symposium, Francois Malan reminded us that labour unrest is nothing new to the mining industry. Never before, though, has the discontent been so widespread, nor the potential ramifications – politically, economically and socially – so extensive. These events have shown that there have been shortcomings on the part of all involved; that in future other stakeholders will demand an increased share in the bounty provided by our mineral resources along with shareholders; and that some collective soul-searching is required if we wish our industry to prosper once again.
Nevertheless, in adversity there is also opportunity. In the drive to improve mine safety, productivity and cost-effectiveness, rock engineering must play a leading role. This challenge provides each of us with possibilities – to develop a new skill, to complete a challenging project, to research a favoured topic...
In the words of Eric Hoffer, an American social writer: "In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."
In closing, I wish each of you a joyous and peaceful festive season. Spend some time with those dear to you, remembering that there are many who do not have that privilege. Return safely in 2013; older, wiser, and ready to take up the challenges of the new year.
Every now and then, mention is made of a shortage in rock engineering staff. Is it real or perceived? If it is real, what can be done to remedy it? Rock Talk polled a few Sanire members. Read on to share in their insights on this issue.
The response was unanimous. Every person polled agreed that there is a shortage of rock engineering staff. The respondents attributed the shortage to a combination of small factors. So, what are these factors?
The contributors mentioned most commonly were:
A number of solutions were suggested, with the strongest combined emphasis falling on the need for formal training and on-the-job mentoring.
One respondent jokingly said he had been unsuccessful in soliciting the services of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but more seriously suggested recruiting trainees with an appropriate tertiary education and making greater use of psychometric testing to select the best candidates.
Another went as far as to suggest that a structured one-year course with regular homework and examinations, possibly administered by a university, might improve matters. He also felt that a requirement to complete matric maths and science before trying to complete a rock engineering ticket might help.
Yet another stated the opinion that a return to a situation where there is the necessary time to develop people on the job is required, to make mentoring possible. Coursework is not enough. People need to learn how to apply what they learn.
Others concurred, with one respondent backing up his suggestion that bursary and trainee numbers should be increased with the observation that there would have to be support for trainees in terms of courses, time and guidance.
He also felt that broadening the definition of a rock engineering professional to include people with appropriate qualifications apart from the Chamber of Mines certificate and experience, in alignment with practice in most other countries, would relieve the staffing pressure in the industry.
A suggestion along similar lines from a different respondent suggested that developing a learnership pool of strata control officers could improve the quality of strata control officers and provide people who could be developed into strong rock engineers.
It was also pointed out that, in the view of one respondent, it would help if management could be educated as to the real role of the rock engineer on the shaft.
Most of the people polled were of the opinion that the training available to rock engineers in South Africa is of good quality. It was pointed out that South Africa is a world leader in rock engineering training and that the experience to be gained on our mines is among the best available, because the stresses and strains are real.
It was also noted that the more structured approach to training is paying off, but that candidates find it hard to balance work and family commitments with studying after hours.
Opinions on whether and how the role of the rock engineer had changed were mixed, but an observation that "the role probably remained the same but the pressures from the Department of Mineral Resources stoppages increased significantly" encapsulated the general view.
Several respondents also pointed out that more emphasis has been placed on the monitoring or policing side to ensure that line management complies with the rules.
It certainly seems to be generally agreed that the increased demands from internal and external stakeholders, combined with the lack of qualified staff, is resulting in an increase in stress for the person appointed as rock engineer. That is probably why the shortage of qualified rock engineers is so frequently discussed.
Kevin Riemer unexpectedly found himself headed for China to talk about seismicity. While he and his wife were there, they took in some of the sights. Here, he provides a peek into China's seismicity challenges, which prompted the forum to meet, his experiences at the summit, and some of interesting experiences he and his wife enjoyed.
While fingers have been intently pointed at the levels of safety in South African mines for the past 120 years, I read with dismay in the Citizen, 1 September 2012, that 41 miners had lost their lives in a mining accident in China the previous day.
Although difficult to confirm, unofficial figures currently put the death rate in Chinese mines at a level of about 2 500 per annum. This is close to an order of magnitude (power of ten) higher than current deaths in South African mines. It is also higher than it has been at any stage during the 120 year history of mining here in South Africa. Nevertheless I'm told that playing the numbers game can be a dangerous occupation, no doubt because there are always questions raised around the benefits of an exercise based solely on raw comparisons.
However, mining however is just one aspect of a significantly expanding Chinese economy at present. In terms of catering for its huge population – 1.7 billion – China is looking at the establishment of an infrastructure that will support its needs 20 to 25 years down the line. This is integrated through their 5 Year Plan and involves numerous significant projects, many of which are recognised for their astonishingly large scale.
An example that comes to mind is the recently completed Three Gorges Dam Project on the Yangtze River1. Nonetheless the current Chinese expansion does not only involve dams and hydro power stations – 120 under construction at present - but also encompasses roads and freeways, airports integrated with high speed train transport, water purification developments, shopping complexes and high density apartment blocks.
China is a vast territory with a high degree of variation in its physical conditions, with the result that construction of these projects takes place in a wide variety of geotechnical areas. The resulting geographical and geological complexities that are subsequently encountered introduce new challenges in the form of earth related hazards. Some of the more common trials encountered include large scale rock failures, rock falls, rockbursts and the undesirable ingress of water, which results in flooding.
The challenge for now, from an engineering perspective in China, is the need to understand the mechanisms and mitigate the risks related to these hazards. In the context of this strategy the Chinese authorities recently organised a forum aimed at promoting discussion around safety and these issues in particular. The gathering was scheduled for 18-19 May 2012 in the metropolis of Wuhan, capital city of the Hubei province in central China and situated on the Yangtze River. The forum was sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) and organised by a host of Chinese institutions2, including the Chinese Society for Rock Mechanics and Engineering. The theme adopted by the organisers and scheduled over two days was simple: "Safe Construction and Risk Management of Major Underground Engineering Projects".
Various speakers were invited to give keynote lectures including an international delegation of eight invited experts, including Nic Barton, John Hudson and Peter Kaiser. The second afternoon was devoted to a top level roundtable panel discussion aimed at developing Chinese science and technology strategies that could then be applied to underground engineering practices over the next 20 years3. The roundtable discussion proceedings were chaired jointly by Professors John Hudson and Qian Qihu.
The invitation for South African participation at this event came by way of a request from Xia-Ting Feng (ISRM President) to SANIRE through Jacques Lucas.
Much like the story of Alice falling down the rabbit hole and the excitement that followed, I soon found myself on board Cathay Pacific's CX 748 midday flight out of ORTI on 5th May 2012. I was routed to the East for Hong Kong armed with a presentation and a paper, co-authored with Ray Durrheim. The paper4, "Mining Seismicity in the Witwatersrand Basin: Monitoring, Mechanisms and Mitigation Strategies in Perspective", is scheduled for publication later this year in the English version of the Chinese Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (JRMGE).
The presentation to the forum comprised a modified edition of this paper proposing a ternary approach (monitoring, mechanisms and mitigation) as the best methodology for dealing with seismic related hazards and risks. The proposed ternary framework, with due reference to the strategy originally proposed by the DeepMine5 project in South Africa, was based on the familiar concept of ternary diagrams used in the field of geochemistry and the study of mineral systems. After all, this seemed to embrace the way developments in the seismic fraternity have unfolded on South African mines over the past 120 years, so why not share it with our academic colleagues in China?
The trip to Wuhan also provided the view to a thrill by way of a private agenda and some serious personal plans for 21 days of roaming the Land of the Dragon. Attending the engineering summit in Wuhan was pasted into the centre of the touring itinerary. The Dragon Tours schedule provided time to see something of this amazing land with a global waistline spanning about 60 degrees of longitude and a history vastly different to ours at the tip of Africa.
If, of course, you desire company and effective English verbal communication – besides that which the tour guides offer – then spouse accompaniment on this kind of mission to China is mandatory. Under these terms of reference the "Roamers" undertook a bit of a hectic lightning tour around the south-western portion of China, through to Wuhan and ending with a final phase that sampled the history in and around the capital city of Beijing. The list of magic moments – too extensive to do it justice here – included the metropolis of Shanghai; the stone forest world heritage site in the Kunming district; the karst mountains surrounding Yanshuo/Guilin; the awesome beauty and tranquillity of the Tibetan landscape around Lijiang and Shangri-La, and – let's not forget - the breath-taking scenery of the Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Jingshu/Yangtze river system. The last stop in Beijing provided an opportunity for a stroll on the "little stone fence" and a chance to shout over the parapets at the Mongols to the North. Needless to say, this provoked no response. Our photographs do not really do justice to the amazing experience we enjoyed while mixing it with the local populace.
After all is said and done, what did we get from the Chinese thrill that we could bring back to South Africa?
First place on the answer sheet must go to the fact that China is so huge and bustling with so many people – ear filters sometimes required - that I must constantly remind myself never again to moan about the crowds and traffic jams in Gauteng. With this comes the realisation that it must surely be hard to be lonely in China, but also possibly easy to become part of the furniture and just a photo for another ID book.
Secondly, I don't believe democracy could ever work in China – for now at least. If you had to take into account the myriad viewpoints and objections that normally arise each time a project is proposed as we are used to out in the West, then given the huge difference in populations, things would probably just never get done in China.
Thirdly the traffic is just so hectic and frightening that even riding a bicycle down the street makes you feel like you are on a suicide mission. Yet in all of this I never saw a dented car in all our travels around this land! Apparently eastern wisdom says that there are five things needed for a driving license in China. Besides the three year apprenticeship, you will also require, in no particular order of preference: a good car, good brakes, a good horn (hooter), a good windshield and plain good luck. Driving in China is accompanied by the constant triggering of hooters and the fashion in which vehicles merge and find their way around is something to behold.
Finally, the Chinese are a "happy people" and their hospitality is incredibly warm despite any preconceived perceptions people have about life in the People's Republic.
On the academic front, one can only admire the Chinese earth scientists and engineers for the enthusiasm they display in going about their work and the manner in which they are busy rising to the challenges. They have fervour that we in South Africa seem to be losing. Could it be the relative political stability of their environment compared with the volatility that we appear to be facing on all fronts? No matter, the name of the game in China seems very definitely to be one of survival through incredibly fierce competition.
While the food takes a little getting used to, if at any stage the stir fry option does become monotonous, the alternatives for so called "western food" - Big Mac burgers and Starbucks coffee - are never too far away. This was my experience in the big cities at least!
Would I go back to China? Imaginably this is the million dollar question. Perhaps my final answer would be "Yes", provided it could be under the same terms of reference as this recent adventure across the pond.
But who can tell, perhaps the expressed desire on the part of the Chines to introduce seismic monitoring into their mines by way of IMS systems may well open up some form of collaboration between our two countries. That being the case, maybe there will be no choice and I would lose the "phone a friend" option, in something much like the circumstances that dictated this recent visit. Maybe I wouldn't miss another offer for all the tea in China!
In the meantime, my thanks must go to the Chinese Academy of Engineering for reimbursing the cost of my travels to Hong Kong and for the accommodation during the stay in Wuhan. I am also deeply grateful to Jacques Lucas for his trust in me and to Gold Fields for affording me the time and opportunity to share a little of our South African mining history and seismicity with our academic colleagues in China.
I believe the equivalent Chinese thank you gesture here to all is both much shorter and simpler: just plain, "Xie Xie" (the audio equivalent is "share share")
|Initiation of proceedings for the international summit, Hongshan Hotel, Wuhan, 18 May2012.|
|The roundtable discussion following the international forum, Hongshan Hotel, Wuhan, 19 May 2012.|
|"Mining Seismicity,a Ternary Approach" busy rolling.|
|View of the karst topography and landscape at the "Stone Forest" world heritage site, Kunming district.|
|Song and dance auditions with the local angelic guardians of a Buddhist temple in the Lijiang area. (We never made it to the second round.)|
|The entrance to "Tiger Leaping Gorge" on the Jinsha River – Tributary of the upper Yangtze river north of Lijiang, Yunan.|
|Touring the historical sites and museums in Wuhan with Nic Barton, Peter Kaiser and our Chinese hosts.|
|We gotta get out of this place..." ; Walkabout in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (entrance in background) keeping a beady eye on the flag slot times.|
|The variance in the local cuisine at the meat market in Beijing......"walk on by".|
|Stunning view of the 2 km stroll on the "Little Fence" on the outskirts of Beijing.|
|Navigating the sites around Guilin. Bicycles are the best way to tour, as long as you have a bell, good brakes, a good wingman like Patty and a good tour guide like Emy!|
To download the 2012 Symposium presentations, follow this link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qsjgimzx5cxk0mh/YPK0kGHghl
It is with sadness that we mus inform you that Gloria Qwabe, a former employee of the Chamber of Mines, has passed away. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends and colleagues in this difficult time. We would also like to urge all candidats to refrain from sending any emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and rather direct all queries to Colin Anderson (the Manager of COM examinations) at email@example.com
It is with deep sadness that we must inform you that Gerhard Myburgh, a former SANIRE member, passed away on Sunday. Gerhard passed away while competing in the Karoo to Coast Mountain Bike race. Mountain Biking was one of Gerhard's passions and his favourite past time.
In rock engineering, Gerhard will be remembered for his contribution to the successful mining of the basal reefs at Tshepong mine using intricate undercutting mining procedures.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues in this difficult time.
The funeral service for Gerhard Myburgh will take place this Friday, 28th of September, 11:00 at the Lighuis Jesus Ministries church in Flamingo Park in Welkom.
24-04-1957 to 23-09-2012
Click on the following link to read the full ISRM newsletter: http://www.isrm.net/adm/newsletter/ver_html.php?id_newsletter=74&ver=1#report_eurock2012
Congratulations to Charlotte and Vlam. At 8:45 on Saturday morning small baby Kyle was born. From the SANIRE council we would like to congratulate Charlotte and Vlam with the new member to their family.
During May, Sanire council members attended Eurock 2012, the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM) symposium held in Stockholm.
The Eurock 2012 symposium was attended by some 360 participants from 33 countries, with more than 150 oral and poster presentations.
The ISRM has grown rapidly and has reached an all-time high with 6 783 members from all over the world. The members are mainly centred in the 49 national groups, of which 40 were present in Stockholm.
Although the programme was very busy, with various presentations by the authors of papers and the ISRM commissions, there was some time to visit the sights of Stockholm.
|The ISRM awarded the Roche medal for the best PhD thesis worldwide during the Stockholm conference. South African Dr Bryan Watson was the runner-up.|
|The ISRM also commemorated its 50th anniversary at Eurock 2012, with the launch of a timeline presented in six posters and a book describing the activities of the society over the past 50 years.|
|Several South Africans and former South Africans presented at the Stockholm Conference. Here, Michael du Plessis from Lonmin presents his paper on crush pillars in the Bushveld complex, part of the work for his upcoming PhD thesis.|
|Some representatives of sunny South Africa brave -5°C to try an ice cold cocktail at the world-famous Ice Bar in Stockholm.|
|The Swedish Rock Engineering Research Foundation hosted a memorable gala dinner in the Vasa Museum.|
|Sanire President Les Gardner (far right) represented South Africa during the voting for the 2014 ISRM international conference. Japan won the vote narrowly.|
The ISRM symposium also hosted the annual ISRM Council and Board meetings, where Les Gardner represented the South Africa national group as Sanire President and Jacques Lucas represented the Africa region in his role as Vice-President: Africa.