Mining Publication: Roof Stability Issues in Underground Limestone Mines in the United States
The room-and-pillar mining method is used extensively in underground limestone mines in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. The rock mass is typically a near-horizontal, bedded deposit at relatively shallow depth. A survey of 34 mines was conducted in which data on roof spans, rock mass properties and support practices were collected as part of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health research project into ground control in limestone mines. The average room width is 13.5 m (44 ft), accommodating large mechanized equipment. The results show that the immediate roof beam can consist of many individual layers and can contain several near-vertical joints. In spite of the room widths, the roof is naturally stable in many mines. Observed roof instabilities can generally be related to excessive horizontal stresses or unfavorable geological structures that cause block fallout or beam failure of the bedded roof rocks. The survey showed that the rock mass quality of the limestone does not vary significantly throughout the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. Roof conditions and the need for support were found to be closely related to the thickness and competence of the first layer of limestone in the roof. The findings highlight the need to identify local geological structures and the roof beam characteristics so that support alternatives can be evaluated. Monitoring and observational technologies that are available for identifying potentially unstable roof are presented, which include: roof characterization using the Rock Fall Risk Index, automated logging of roofbolt hole drilling, microseismic monitoring and displacement monitoring.