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Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28

DOI 10.1007/s12665-012-1930-6


Vertical shaft collapse at the Jinchuan Nickel Mine,

Gansu Province, China: analysis of contributing factors
and causal mechanisms
Feng-shan Ma • Qing-hai Deng • Dickson Cunningham •

Ren-mao Yuan • Hai-jun Zhao

Received: 4 July 2011 / Accepted: 21 August 2012 / Published online: 4 September 2012
Ó Springer-Verlag 2012

Abstract In mining areas, vertical ventilating shafts are still threatened by potential future ground movements,
often threatened by ground movements induced by under- because the shaft is located within a subsiding depression
ground mining. In this paper, damage characteristics rela- induced by underground mining. This case study indicates
ted to collapse of the vertical ventilating shaft at the No. 14 that when designing an underground mining operation, it is
exploratory line in Jinchuan Nickel Mine, China are doc- very important to locate a shaft outside of any area where
umented. The damage mechanism is then analyzed based future mining-induced subsidence may occur.
on comprehensive consideration of geological conditions
and distribution of underground excavations. The results Keywords Shaft collapse  Vertical ventilating shaft 
indicate that the high dip angle of the ore body and fault/ Underground mining  Jinchuan Nickel Mine  China
fissures were responsible for the damage of the shaft when
ground movements occurred. Although the damaged shaft
was repaired in a short time, its stability and safe usage are Introduction

F. Ma  H. Zhao In underground mining areas, a vertical ventilating shaft

Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy behaves like a throat that helps maintain a safe and clean
of Sciences, Beijing 100029, People’s Republic of China operating environment. The stability of shafts can be
influenced by many factors, such as the size and shape of
Q. Deng
College of Geological Science and Engineering, excavations, construction techniques, and engineering
Shandong University of Science and Technology, geological and hydrogeological conditions (Bruneaua et al.
Qingdao 266590, People’s Republic of China 2003a, b; Lu and Cui 1999; Rejeb and Bruel 2001;
Yao et al. 2003; Li et al. 2006; Zhao et al. 2008). However,
Q. Deng
College of Resources and Environment Science, Chongqing often when a shaft is being designed and built, only sub-
University, Chongqing 400044, People’s Republic of China surface support measures are considered by designers.
Little consideration is given to the potential influence of
D. Cunningham
local ground movements that could be induced by under-
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Eastern
Connecticut State University, Willimantic, CT, USA ground mining during the lifetime of the mine, even though
it could be one of the main controlling factors on shaft
R. Yuan stability. In recent years, many characteristics of shaft
Key Laboratory of Active Tectonics and Volcano,
deformation caused by local, mining-induced ground
China Earthquake Administration, Beijing 100029,
People’s Republic of China movements in coal mine areas have been reported
(Hiramatsu et al. 1979; Bukrinsky 1984; Palaski 1989;
R. Yuan (&) Torano et al. 1999; Yang and Ma 2007). However, ground
Institute of Geology, China Earthquake Administration,
movement features in metallic mining operations are
Huayanli A1#, Chaoyang district, Beijing 100029,
People’s Republic of China commonly different from those in coal mines because of
e-mail: yuanrm@gmail.com differences in host rock types, geological setting and

22 Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28

mining conditions (Xu 1994, 1997; Yuan et al. 2008; Zhao used in the Jinchuan Nickel Mine, which is consequently the
et al. 2008, 2009). In this paper, damage to the vertical shaft largest mine employing the backfilling method in China.
at the No. 14 exploratory line in Jinchuan Nickel Mine is The Jinchuan Nickel Mine district is situated at the base
taken as a case study, in order to demonstrate how a shaft in of the northern slope of the Longshou Mountains, adjacent
an underground metallic mining operation was detrimentally to the Chaoshui Basin (Fig. 1). The ore deposit is about
affected by mining-induced ground movements. 6.5 km long, tens of meters to 570 m wide, and its depth
The main ventilating shaft in the No. 2 mining area of reaches more than 1,000 m. The ore-bearing rocks are
Jinchuan Mine is located along the No. 14 exploratory line and ultrabasic intrusions that are cut by NE-ENE trending
undertakes the ventilating task for two transport tunnel sys- faults (F8, F16, F17) that divide the district into four rela-
tems at heights of 1,250 and 1,000 m. Construction of the tively independent mine fields, referred to as mine fields
vertical shaft started in October 1999 and finished at the end of No. 3, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 from west to east (Fig. 1).
2000. The shaft has a total depth of 714 m. In order to ensure The country rock types in the mine fields consist of two
safety, advanced support technologies were employed in suites: (1) a thick succession (2,000 m?) of Proterozoic
design. Therefore, the shaft was expected to be very safe. high-grade metamorphic basement rocks mainly composed
However, the shaft was situated in a potentially dangerous of migmatite, schist, marble and gneiss, and (2) quaternary
environment, because the potential existence, progressive cover sediments with a thickness of 25–280 m. The ore-
growth and areal extent of mining-induced local ground bearing ultrabasic rocks are intruded into the Proterozoic
movement were neglected by the designers. After about basement as irregular dikes. The strike of the ultrabasic
4 years, the shaft was destroyed during the period from 9 to 22 rocks is 310° and they dip SW between 40° and 70°
March 2005, and was filled rapidly by collapsed rock frag- (Fig. 1). The ore body lies in the central and lower part of
ments. Only the upper section of the shaft from the surface to a the ultrabasic rock mass. The highest grade ore is located in
depth of 170 m remained unfilled and open. the middle of the ore body and the lean ore is in concentric
In the following sections, damage characteristics of the peripheral zones around the high grade core.
ventilating shaft are described in detail, and the failure Generally, there are three main groups of faults in the mine
mechanism of the shaft is then analyzed by comprehensively areas (Fig. 1). The first group consists of NW trending thrust
considering the site’s geological conditions and the scope of faults such as F1 and F3. The second group consists of oblique-
underground mining. The research results should be of use to slip thrusts oriented approximately E–W such as F18 and F16-1.
mining engineers and designers at other underground mining The faults cross-cut the ore body with significant displace-
sites to inform site selection decision making for construction ment. The third group consists of NE-striking normal faults
of shafts and other mining infrastructure. such as F17. This third group of faults is abundant within the
ultrabasic rock mass. Rock stability surrounding the slopes is
strongly influenced by Group 3 faults.
Overview of the studied area The No. 2 mine is the biggest mine in the Jinchuan
Nickel Mine area because of its rich nickel reserves and
Description of the mine site high outputs. Three-quarters of its reserves are classified as
high-grade ore or very high-grade ore, accounting for
The Jinchuan Nickel Mine is located in the border areas of 75.2 % of the total reserves. Ore body No. 1 is the principal
Jinchang City, Gansu Province, in West China (Fig. 1). Its ore body in the No. 2 mine and extends from 350 ms below
output of nickel accounts for 80 % of the total output in the surface to over 1,000 m, dipping 65°–75°. It is about
China. At present, underground mining with backfill is 1,600 m long and 100 m thick on average.

Fig. 1 Geological sketch map

of the Jinchuan Mine area,
Gansu Province, China

Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28 23

Fig. 3 Simple geological profile of the shaft showing damage

analysis. Dashed line represents subsurface damage zone

1) 1,717.00–1,510.00 m (depth interval 0–207 m): in this

section, the shaft passes through ultrabasic rock with
medium coarse texture and massive appearance.
However, joints and fissures are well developed with
a density of about 5–6/m. Three small faults were
found during the investigation. They are about
Fig. 2 Contour map of land subsidence monitored by GPS in No. 2 0.1–1 m wide and filled with fault gouge and breccia.
mine area from May 2001 to November 2008. Contour lines are in 2) 1,510.00–1,489.20 m (depth interval 207–227.8 m):
the shaft passes through the contact zone between the
ultrabasic rock and granite. Fault F207 which strikes
Ground movement in the mining area 057° and dips 58°SE is developed in the 207–217 m
interval of this zone, and filled with 0.3–0.5 m
Large-scale underground mining in the No. 2 mine area has thickness of fault gouge. The F207 fault zone is filled
induced rock mass movements generating a large subsiding with water and fractured peridotite, marble and
basin (Fig. 2). According to GPS data collected from May granite. The actual length of the intersection between
2001 to November 2008, the subsidence defines a bulls-eye the fracture zone and the shaft wall is about 20 ms,
pattern with the maximum value of 1,287.5 mm of subsi- and fracture density is about 4/m between 221.2 and
dence in the center (Fig. 2). The shaft on the line No. 14 is 225 m depth. Therefore, the engineering geological
about 340 m away from the subsidence center within the conditions of the shaft in this section are extremely
edge region of the subsidence basin (Fig. 2). The ground poor.
surface deformation around the shaft is significant, com- 3) 1,489.20–1,043.00 m (depth interval 227.8–674 m):
prising up to 470 mm of vertical displacement and 226 mm this section is mainly composed of red granite. The
of horizontal displacement. For every 6-month period, trend of the rock masses is 55°–70°, dipping SW. The
subsidence increases by 23–40 mm and horizontal dis- fracture density is about 3–4/m, and the rock mass is
placements increase by 13–27 mm. This indicates that the fragmented with poor stability.
ground deformation is developing steadily at high rates. 4) 1,043.00–1,039.50 m (depth interval 674–677.5 m):
Therefore, it appears that the stability of the vertical shaft this section is a major fracture zone within diabase
has been seriously affected by ground movements caused rock, with a joint density of 11/m.
by underground mining. 5) 1,039.50–1,003 m (depth interval 677.5–714 m): geo-
logical engineering conditions are poor in this section.
Engineering geological conditions The rock mass is highly fragmented by the F16 reverse
fault that dips approximately 70°SW. The zone of fault
The rocks that the shaft passes through can be divided into influence (damage zone) is about 40–50 m wide and
four geological sequences: ultrabasic rocks, granite, marble the fault is about 40 ms from the ventilating shaft. In
and migmatite (Fig. 3): addition, there is substantial fissure water in the rock

24 Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28

mass above fault F207. In the F207 fracture zone, the 1) Large deformation. After the shaft was destroyed,
water yield is about 30 m3/h. There are a few outflow almost no original sidewall was preserved above about
points with small water yield below fault F207. No 270 m depth level of the shaft. In addition, the
special control measures were taken for groundwater diameter of the shaft decreased significantly. These
inflow during construction of the ventilating shaft. observations indicated that the contraction displace-
ment of the shaft is substantial.
2) High deformation rate. Because of high tectonic stress,
rapid excavation and unloading, and the influence of
Damage characteristics of the vertical shaft
underground mining, the deforming rate of the shaft
was very high. The shaft began to deform and fail
Based on the post-collapse investigation, the damaged shaft
within only 2 years of being put into service.
was filled with fragmental materials below a depth of
3) Long-term deformation. Rocks under high confining
170 m. According to measurements taken at about the
stress can display predictable rheological behavior.
280 m depth, the N–S radius of the shaft is about 6.36 m
Deformation behavior may be time-dependent and
and the E–W radius is about 6.4 m, both are smaller than
divisible into three continuous phases: sudden onset
the original 6.5 m radius. A similar reduction in shaft
deformation, slow waning deformation and eventual
dimensions was identified at other depths. In order to
cessation and stability. The initial phase typically lasts
maintain a safe underground mining environment, the
30 days or less. The second phase takes longer, usually
engineers started to repair the shaft with the hope of
months to several years, followed by the final stage
recovering its function. The following types of damage to
when the wall rock tends to stabilize. However, owing
the vertical shaft were documented:
to the continuous impact of underground mining, wall
1) Cracking: this includes the ring-shaped crack around rock creep may also persist and thus it is difficult to
the shaft wall, vertical cracks and cross-cutting cracks reach the third phase of stability. As a result,
with ‘X’ geometries. Fissures mainly appeared on the considerable deformation and eventual failure may
NW and SE sides of the shaft wall. Most are vertical result.
2) Sloughing: this is a universal damage type with
vertical shafts and sloughing strongly affected some
Damage mechanism of the vertical shaft
segments of the Jinchuan Mine shaft. Small blocks
bound by steep-vertical cracks fell down and destroyed
Influence of underground mining
the shaft’s concrete support layer. Some cavities
between the support layer and the surrounding rocks
Displacement of surrounding rock
were also formed. The damage characteristics of the
concrete support layer indicate predominantly tensile
Figure 4 shows the horizontal and vertical displacement
along the shaft wall with depth, which was based on the
3) Impact crater: one big crater was found at a depth of
results of numerical simulation. A cylindrical free face was
170 m with a long axis in a SE direction inclined 40°
formed when the shaft was opened, so the wall rock was
from horizontal, which could have been caused by the
free to move into the hollow shaft space. This is why
impact of a massive sloughing block falling from the
positive displacement values locally occur (positive
opposite shaft wall. The surface of sloughing debris in
direction along the X axis in Fig. 4). Large horizontal
the shaft is higher along the SE side (171 m) and lower
displacements occurred in three positions along the shaft
along the NW side (173 m).
axis: from 1,250 to 1,350 m (depth interval 364–464 m),
Monitor results showed that the shaft was damaged and in zones directly above fault F207, and in the zone
again shortly after being remedied. At first, new fissures between 1,050 and 1,175 m depth (Fig. 4a). Slip was
were found in the shaft wall in July 2006. Subsequently, especially evident between 1,490 and 1,510 m (depth
numbers of fissures increased gradually. According to a interval 194–214 m), which coincides with the location of
special investigation on January 1st, 2007, there were two fault F207.
large fissures cutting the remedied well wall. One occurs at The largest vertical displacement occurred in the rock
a depth of 32–36 m. The other occurs at a depth of 287 m. mass at the top of the goaf, the majority of which is in the
Based on all of the observations described above, the hanging wall of the ore body (Fig. 4b). The influence of the
features of the deformation of the vertical shaft at the No. underground mining is greater in the hanging wall than
14 exploratory line were concluded to be the following: in the footwall, similar to the horizontal displacement.

Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28 25

Fig. 4 Displacement of shaft

wall along the shaft’s axis based
on results of numerical
simulation: a horizontal,
b vertical

Along the shaft wall, the displacement becomes smaller 1,250–1,450 m and 1,000–1,050 m. Within these shaft
from surface to bottom. The direction of movement intervals, the shaft is theoretically more vulnerable to failure.
becomes reverse-sense within the bottom part (positive However, the locations of maximum displacement and
direction along the X axis in Fig. 4). The direction of the highest stress values are not perfectly correlated. Substantial
rock mass movement in the mining area is always towards vertical stresses were concentrated within the shaft segment
the goaf. GPS monitoring data clearly show that the dis- above 1,450 m elevation, whereas the largest displacements
placement of the hanging wall is greater than in the foot- occurred above the 1,300 m elevation level (Figs. 4, 5).
wall, so it is reasonable that most of the shafts and
underground workings were designed to be constructed in
Damage positions of the shaft
the footwall in the Jinchuan Nickel Mine. However, the
extent of the rock mass movement can quickly enlarge and
According to the above analysis, the shaft wall is suscep-
extend to the footwall with an increase in the volume of
tible to damage at different depth levels:
extracted ore (Fig. 2). The shaft along the No. 14 line is
within the influence zone of underground mining and near 1) From the surface to the depth of 200 m: larger horizontal
the ore body, although it is also located in the footwall. displacements and the largest vertical displacement exist
Thus, the shaft was ultimately damaged due to the increase within this segment. The horizontal and vertical stresses
in underground excavation. also change sharply. Therefore, the shaft is easily
damaged and destroyed by tensile cracking. In addition,
Stress analysis of surrounding rocks there are three small faults/fissures above fault F207,
which could have enlarged and extended to the ground
Figure 5 is the simulated horizontal and vertical stress in surface due to the influence of continued underground
the wall rock along the shaft where the elevation of mining and induced subsidence. When the shaft was
underground mining is at 1,100 m. The direction of hori- being damaged, these fissures formed the slide faces.
zontal stress is generally towards the negative X direction 2) Positions around the fault F207 (depth interval
in Fig. 5a indicating tensile stress in the wall rock around 200–220 m): at this depth, the thickness of the fracture
the shaft. Stress reached 7 MPa at the top of the shaft zone is about 10 ms, and is mainly composed of rock
where the shaft wall was easily damaged. fragments of lherzolite, granite and marble. Geological
Corresponding to the trend of horizontal stress, the engineering conditions are poor because of the
vertical stress increases sharply at an elevation of about extremely fractured rock mass. Within this interval,
1,510 m (depth below the surface of about 214 m), which the direction of horizontal displacement changed
is within the damage zone of fault F207 (Fig. 5b). This significantly, and the vertical and horizontal stress
indicates that shear failure is more likely to occur at also changed dramatically (Figs. 4, 5). In addition, the
approximately the 1,510 m elevation. Tensile stress values vertical displacement there is larger than along other
are relatively higher at elevations from 1,250 m to the intervals. Therefore, within this interval, the shaft is
bottom. Because underground mining was started at the vulnerable to damage and destruction by shearing.
1,300 m elevation and the line 14 shaft is near the stope, 3) Elevation interval from 1,350–1,250 m (depth interval
the influence of underground mining on the shaft wall rock 360–460 m): This segment is closest to the goaf,
is greater from 1,300 m downwards. where the largest horizontal displacements are docu-
Some peak values of the vertical stress occurred in the shaft mented. Therefore, it is one of the shaft intervals that
wall, including at the elevation intervals 1,490–1,520 m, is most susceptible to destruction.

26 Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28

Fig. 5 Stress of shaft wall

along the shaft’s axis based on
results of numerical simulation:
a horizontal, b vertical

4) Influence zone of fault F16 (approximately 50 m from The vertical ventilating shaft at the No. 14 exploratory
bottom of shaft): starting at an elevation of about line is in the influence zone of ground movements induced
1,000 m, the shaft closely approaches fault F16, where by underground mining. It is underground mining that
structural planes of weakness are well developed. In generated the decrease in the deformation modulus of the
this location, larger horizontal displacements occurred. shaft wall, leading to shaft damage and failure as defor-
The vertical and horizontal stresses also change mation increased. However, the shaft is not destroyed in
sharply at this depth. the elevation interval between 1,300 and 1,000 m, which is
closest to the goaf and therefore most likely to be influ-
enced by underground mining activity. Based on this
Damage mechanism of the shaft
investigation, the shaft was damaged seriously at a depth of
about 270 m. The intact shaft wall was observed again
In general, displacement of wall rock induced solely by
from a depth of 276 m. Therefore, the causal mechanism
underground excavations typically settles down after sev-
for ruin and failure of the vertical ventilation shaft damage
eral months if there are no other contributing factors. A
must take into account other contributing factors.
relaxation zone and compression zone then forms in the
wall rock, which stabilizes the material and prevents fur-
ther movements. Influence of the dip angle of ore body
In fact, it is frictional resistance along existing planes of
structural weakness that prevents the rock mass from fur- In general, stress distributions within jointed rocks can
ther displacement and deformation. However, deformation change when the rock is loaded. Stress may be partitioned
could be reactivated again by underground mining. and focused along joint faces, and normal to joint faces
Excavation of rock volumes can cause a decrease in the resulting in abnormal stress contour patterns (Fig. 6).
confining pressure in the wall rock of the shaft. Reduction Similarly, stress contour patterns also become abnormal
in normal stress reduces the shear strength of the structural when unloading is induced by underground mining.
planes. This can be described by the following conceptual Numerical simulation results are shown in Fig. 6 by using
model: FLAC software to derive stress contours around under-
ground excavated ore bodies with different dip angles. The
s ¼ ðrn  Drn Þ tan u þ c ð1Þ
stress contours are almost normal to the rectangle-shaped
where, rn is the normal stress on the structural plane, and ore body when the ore body is horizontal (Fig. 6a). How-
Drn is the drop value of normal stress induced by under- ever, the stress contours change and define two extended
ground mining. directions when the ore body is inclined: one is normal to
The deformation modulus of the rock mass will decrease the long axis of the upper ore body, whereas the other is
with decreasing confining pressure. Underground mining parallel to the long axis (Fig. 6b, c). When the long axis of
will reduce the friction force on structural planes, which the ore body is vertical, the stress contours are almost
could promote sliding and displacements in the rock mass. parallel to its long axis (Fig. 6d).
It is equivalent to a decrease in the average deformation In the Jinchuan Nickel Mine area, the dip angle of the
modulus of the rock mass. Thus, the displacement of rock ore body is about 70°, and most of the structure planes of
mass will be increased whereas the internal body forces weakness are parallel to the ore body. During mining, the
remain unchanged. Thus, the shaft will be destroyed when confining pressure in the rock mass will decrease. There-
the displacement becomes large enough. fore, the stress contours will evolve to resemble to those in

Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28 27

Fig. 6 Stress distribution state

for underground excavation of
rectangular-shaped ore bodies
with different dip angles.
Dashed lines represent country
rock dip. Solid lines represent
derived stress contours.
Beta = dip angle of long axis of
ore body relative to horizontal

Fig. 7 Ground movements and

fault effects induced by
underground mining at the
Jinchuan Nickel Mine

Fig. 6c. The intersection between the zone of largest stress mining, abnormal rock movements may occur near the
decrease and the shaft is approximately the zone of loose fault. The fault effect on rock mass movements is complex
rock mass. In this zone, the normal stress on the structural and varies depending on host rock characteristics, fault
planes is reduced, so the damage is most likely to be geometries and internal fault zone structures and fault
focused there. In Fig. 3, the section of wall rock in the rocks. Figure 7 shows the fault kinematics due to ground
depth interval from 90 to 255 m below surface was easily movement induced by underground mining. The relative
loosened and the extent of deformation enlarged. Large displacement between hanging wall and footwall of the
pressures would have developed in the lining of the shaft, fault may increase as mining depth increases. Therefore,
and finally the shaft failed. In addition, three fissures and the shaft is most prone to failure by increased shear stresses
fault F207 occur within this segment. Shearing along pre- in rheologically weak layers and fault zones (Fig. 7).
existing faults and fracture surfaces was promoted because Based on the above considerations, the fault effect on
of reduced normal stress on the fault/fractures planes. In the shaft damage can be explained as follows (Fig. 3):
the end, the shaft was destroyed by large shear stresses that
1) Three fissures are distributed above fault F207. Shear-
promoted sliding and shaft lining collapse.
ing was concentrated in these fissure zones during the
development of underground mining. The hanging
Fault effect
walls collapsed, and shearing along the fissure surfaces
propagated to the ground surface generating a surface
The investigation showed that most of the deformation and
scarp. The shearing along the fault surfaces resulted in
wider distribution of damage zones occurred in areas with poor
destruction of the shaft.
geological engineering conditions. For example, in the Jinchuan
2) The 10 m-wide fracture zone of fault F207 has a highly
Nickel Mine, a tunnel with a strike of 320° was intersected by a
brecciated damage zone and thus poor rock strength
fault with a strike of 330°. The damage to the tunnel only
characteristics. Therefore, the shaft was easily destroyed
occurred near the fault. It indicates that the tunnel deformation
in this section by shearing within the zone, driven by the
is closely related to pre-existing geological conditions. Where
changing stress conditions due to underground mining.
the tunnel nears the fault, the deformation is very large, and the
rate of deformation is documented to be extremely high.
Engineers in the Jinchuan Mine monitored the deformation of a
tunnel at 220 and 70 m distances from fault F16 and recorded 6 Conclusion
and 23 cm displacement in 1 month, respectively.
Faults and other planar structures reduce the integrity of Underground mining at the Jinchuan No. 2 nickel mine has
rock mass. If a fault is in the influence zone of underground caused a subsiding depression to form above the mine and

28 Environ Earth Sci (2013) 69:21–28

has triggered rock mass movements and failure of the Proceedings of the 4th international congress of ISRM.
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Science Foundation of China project (NSFC: 40972197, 41272298, by mining steep seam and its application. Science Press (in
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Yao ZS, Yang JJ, Sun WL (2003) Experimental study on sliding shaft
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