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Remediation of large-scale slope failures and impact on mine development at the Gold Quarry Mine

Mining Engineering , 2014, Vol. 66, No. 11, pp. 57-57

Sheets, R,J.; Douglas, S,J.; St. Louis, R.M.; Bailey, J.A.


In 2009, the Gold Quarry openpit mine experienced multiple large-scale slope failures of the upper east highwall that reduced gold ore extraction for nearly 18 months. The slope failures occurred within a weak, consolidated sedimentary sequence that exhibits strength characteristics that are transitional between soil and rock. Instability initiated as mining exposed the lower, high plasticity subunits of the Carlin Formation. This deformation created preferential flow paths that allowed ground water from the upper sandy subunits to infiltrate low-permeability, clay-rich subunits, thereby enhancing deformation of the slope toe, which, in turn, destabilized the upper portion of the highwall. The outcome was a 160 m high slope failure that had a lateral run-out of 850 m. The effort to return the pit to ore production required geotechnical and hydrogeological investigations and the preliminary remediation mining activity to be concurrent. This required the development of detailed safety procedures and a requirement to modify the remediation design as new results were obtained. An initial challenge was to mitigate a near vertical, 90 m headscarp with localized, blast-induced slope failures. Back-analyses with numerical modeling software indicated that the failure surface could be shallower, which contradicted the initial failure interpretations. Eventually, drilling results confirmed this alternative failure geometry. The final remediation design incorporated shallower slope geometries and an approximately 3 Mt buttress along the base of the Carlin Formation and bedrock contact to reinforce the subunits with residual strength properties. The results are a stable highwall within the Carlin Formation following nearly 10 years of repeated slope failures, and an example of the necessity to conduct appropriate geotechnical and hydrogeological studies during the early stages of a new layback evaluation or new openpit development.