Mining Publication: Catastrophic Failures of Underground Evaporite Mines
Deformation of underground salt, trona and potash mines is generally time dependent, providing for gradual adjustment of strata to mining induced stresses. Time dependence can allow for higher extraction ratios provided eventual failure can be tolerated. However, this eventual failure can be violent if creep deformation can shift stress and potential energy to strong, brittle geologic units. The mine failure case studies reviewed here illustrate this process. Yield pillars and defects in bridging strata figure prominently in these cases. Yield pillars provide local and temporary support to the roof, temporarily delaying the cave; and allowing extraction ratios and overburden spans to increase beyond the long term capacity of overlying strata. Defects (faults, voids, thinning) of strong overburden strata reduce the critical span, sometimes to less than panel width. Analyses of many of these cases have focused on a cascading pillar failure mechanism, but recent work and this review point to failure of strong overburden strata as the essential element. The suddenness of failure and attendant seismic events pose hazards to miners and, in some cases, to those on the surface. Characterizing these failures is a first step towards recognizing and managing the risk of catastrophic collapse in underground mines.