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Geometry Effects on Slope Stability

at Grasberg Mine Through the

Transition from Open Pit to
Underground Block Cave Mining
Eman Widijanto*
Ridho K. Wattimena
Suseno Kramadibrata
Made Astawa Rai
Department of Mining Engineering, Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB)
Bandung, Indonesia
*Corresponding author e-mail: eman_widijanto@yahoo.com

PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI) operates Grasberg Surface Mine, an ultra-deep open pit copper-gold
mine located at 4000m above sea level in the province of Papua about 3,500 km east of Jakarta,
Indonesia. Surface mining of the open pit is scheduled to end in mid-2018. Underground mining of the
Grasberg orebody by the block cave method will commence directly beneath the pit as the surface
mining is completed. Development of the underground mining infrastructure is currently underway
beneath the pit. It is important to understand the slope stability of the pit walls during the transition
from surface mining to block cave mining as unexpected failures can lead to dilution of the ore into the
block cave mine with waste rock from the pit walls and the loss of the ability to maintain drainage
networks at pit levels, among many other potential problems. Controlling aspects of slope stability
considered in this study are the depth of the pit, the geometry of the pit walls (concave, straight, and
convex segments), and the crown pillar thickness of intact solid rock between the pit and the upwardly
progressing zone of broken rock caused by block cave mine starting at the draw points located ~250m
beneath the ultimate pit bottom. As pit depth increases, the displacements at pit bottom increase as well
for three different rock categories (good, fair and poor category). In our analysis of pit wall geometry
effects, the concave pit wall shape causes less actual average deformation than for straight or convex
pit shape (14-20% lower). Modeling results for the onset of block cave mining show that, as the block
cave progresses beneath the pit, stability of the pit walls is insensitive to crown pillar thickness greater
than 80m, but that the differential stress drops dramatically at crown pillar thickness less than 80m.
KEYWORDS: Open Pit; Block Cave; Slope Stability; Transition; Depth; Geometry; Crown

Grasberg Open Pit Mine which is operated by PT Freeport Indonesia is located at 4,000 meters
above sea level at highly mountain area in the province of Papua, Indonesia and intersected by
equator line with coordinates 4o latitude and 137o longitude with average 4000 mm of rainfall per

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Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1734

year. It is one of the largest open pit mines in the world with approximately 3.5 km of diameter and
1.1 km of depth (see Figure 1).
The mining plan is to complete the pit by mid of 2018 and continue by reclaiming lower grade
stockpile for the period of 2019-2020. Besides finishing the open pit mining, the transition program to
the underground block caving is critical to be incorporated into the existing open pit mine planning
and production to consider some future technical challenges for underground block caving.
The technical challenges might be as follows: a) underground production scheduling which
considers both production and geotechnical parameters, b) potential early dilution from uncontrolled
open pit slope failure, c) uncontrolled surface subsidence, and d) excessive water from both open pit
catchment area and ground water which will correlate to the stability and particularly mud rush at the
underground mine.

Figure 1: Birds-eye view of Grasberg Open Pit Mine and its surrounding area
(December 24th, 2015)


As pit gets deeper it creates increasing challenges on efficiency of loading-hauling activities and
slope stability maintenance. The transition from open pit to underground mine is required to maintain
the production of the same orebody. The Grasberg Surface Mine is one of deep open pits that have
been developing the transition program to underground mining as shown in Figure 2.
Some inherent geotechnical risks associated with open pit-underground transition have been
identified based on previous mining operations. Extensive mine planning is required to make
effective transition program and mitigating the risks into acceptable risks level. Many researchers
have discussed the risk level mentioned and the explanation is given in the following ones.
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1735

A number of factors such as open pit slope stability, dilution, mudrush and airblast had been
identified as of important aspects which affecting interaction between surface and underground
operations (Stacey and Terbrugge, 2000).
There are potential hazards that could be experienced in a transition from open pit to underground
cave mining (Flores, 2005) such as: a) caving activities may induce seismicity which could generate
rock burst, b) a sudden failure of cave back that could trigger an air blast, c) an early failure of the
surface crown pillar in simultaneous surface and underground operations, d) unexpected end of the
open pit operations. Should those hazards not be monitored and maintained, potential high risk may
impact the entire mine operations.
Subsidence could affect both surface and underground infrastructures, and the open pit could act
as a catch-basin for heavy rainfall which correlate with increasing the risk of both sudden water
inflows and mud rushes into the underground mine.


Mines that have developed a transition from OP to UG

1100 Chuquicamata
Mines that are developing a transition from OP to UG
1000 Mines that will develop a transition from OP to UG Grasberg
Trend from case histories
900 Trend from project data Bingham Canyon
Maximum pit depth (m)

800 Palabora








1945 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020


Figure 2: Evolution through time of the trend for the depth of open pit mines that have
developed, are developing, or will develop a transition to underground mining (Flores and
Karzulovic, 2002 at Flores, 2005)

Another geotechnical risk is early failure in open pit slope as a result of transition and interaction
between open pit and underground mine. This early failure is associated with rock mass
characteristics of open pit slope and crown pillar as well as the geometry of both open pit and
underground mines. Referring to the open pit wall failure at Palabora Mine South Africa which
occurred in September 2004, the failure caused of material movement of approximately 130 million
ton of waste which filled the north-west corner and the floor of the open pit and also associated with
30% of underground ore reserve loss (Ngidi and Boshoff, 2007).
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1736

The investigation of the Palabora mine failure concluded that pervasive joint sets in the north wall
form wedges that daylight into the cave region below the pit and also the draw of the ore into the cave
zone undermines the north wall played significant roles in this failure (Brummer et al., 2006).


As mentioned earlier that the transition and interaction of open pit and underground mines have
implication in geometry change for both areas. Pit depth contributes significantly to the slope stability
performance especially for deep pit. As a matter of fact, accepted classification of pit depth has not
been defined, but Zavodni (2015) and Mahambetov et al. (2013) proposed that pit depth could be
categorized as follows: shallow (less than 150 m), medium (150m-300 m), and deep (>300 m); also
shallow (less than 240 m), deep (240m-480m), and ultra-deep open pit mines (>480 m) for
automobile transport inside the open pit purposes respectively. Referring to the current Grasberg
Mine pit depth (1.1 km), the pit can then be classified as a deep or ultra-deep open pit mine.
It was noted by Eberhardt et al. (2007) that rock engineering interactions involved with transition
projects are complex. Failure of slopes which have height of more than several hundred meters has
been acknowledged to become associated with in-situ and induced stresses, whereas bench scale
failures could be due to wedge failure controlled. In general sense, Call (1992) found out that the
stresses in a pit slope are low and do not exceed the rock mass strength. In deep pits, there is a
possibility of sufficient stresses in the toe of a slope resulting crushing failure of the rock mass,
particularly if there is a high horizontal stress.
To address the potential for high stress at the pit bottom, modeling exercises using Phase2 (RS2)
finite element program from Rocscience Inc. was conducted. All models use a west-east cross section
and the top level refers to original topography (pre-mining) while the pit bottom level refers to the
elevation for each period (ultimately at 1.2 km depth). Three different rock mass categories (good,
fair and poor) are applied in the simulation and the rock mass properties are shown in the Table 1.

Table 1: Geotechnical Classification for Modeling Purposes

Rock Type Category RQD (%) RMR E (GPa)

Limestone (Tk 80%) Good Rock 75-90 74 31.09 0.26

Diorite (Kali 25%) Fair Rock 30-80 50 13.78 0.31
Andesite (HSZ 92) Poor Rock 10-65 44 2.48 0.36

Note: Tk 80% or Tertiary Kais, Kali 25%, and HSZ 92 or Heavy Sulphide Zone are local names for
material type. RQD = Rock Quality Designation (Deere, 1964); RMR = Rock Mass Rating
(Bieniawski, 1989); E = Youngs Modulus; = Poissons ratio.

Figure 3 shows the west-east cross section of the mine till life of mine (from elevation 4285L to
3085L, 1.2 km depth) and its reference points at pit bottom to show differential stress (1 3 ) and
displacement changes at west toe (W), middle (M) and east toe (E).
Figure 4 shows the modeling results of pit depth impact to total displacement change at pit
bottom. In general as pit depth increases, the displacements at the bottom pit increase as well. This
trend is similar for three different rock categories (good, fair and poor category). The total
displacements correlate also to the rock mass quality as the displacements get higher for poorer rock
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1737

quality, vice versa. The total displacements of poor rock, fair rock and good rock are 6-8 mm, 1-2
mm, and <1mm respectively.

Figure 3: Phase2 simulation for west-east cross section at 330 meters of pit depth and its
reference points

Figure 4: Modeling result for total displacement changes at pit bottom for each pit depth
(For 3 different rock categories - Good, Fair, & Poor)
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1738

Figure 5 shows the modeling results of pit depth impact to the differential stress (1 3 ) at pit
bottom. In general, as pit depth increases, the differential stress acting at the pit toes increase as well.
These trends are similar for three different rock categories (good, fair, and poor category). Better rock
quality has higher differential stress, vice versa.

Figure 5: Modeling result for differential stress at the west toe of bottom pit for each pit
depth (For 3 different rock categories - Good, Fair, & Poor)

Besides pit depth impact, the study attempted to review pit shape impact to the overall pit
stability. It was Hoek et al. (2009) who said that concave slope in plan is marginally more stable than
that of straight or convex slope.
As the open pit is excavated, the depth of the pit and the shape of the slopes in plan change to
follow its reserve and mine design requirements such as ramp and mine infrastructures. Figure 6
shows the Grasberg surface mine shape for different elevations (3675L, 3730L, 3815L and 3887L).
The upper picture is 3D oblique view while the lower picture shows 2D plan view of the mine. The
2D plan view picture shows clearly that the mine is not well rounded and consist of different shapes
in plan for each mine circle.
Each mine circle basically consist of three different shapes in plan (concave, straight, and
convex). These different elevations were chosen to review their stability for different pit shapes in
relatively the same condition (i.e. elevation, lithology, and period of monitoring).
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1739

Figure 6: 3D oblique view of Grasberg Mine (upper) and 2D plan view for different
elevations (lower)

Figure 7 shows the stress trajectories of Grasberg surface mine shape in plan for 3675L elevation.
It shows 3 different shapes in plan (concave, straight and convex). As stated by Hoek et al. (2000,
2009) that rock noses or convex in plan are less stable than concave slopes. This is generally
because of lack of confinement in convex slopes and beneficial effects of confinement in concave
The differential stress from modeling shows the effect of confinement as per Hoeks statements.
The differential stress of concave, straight and convex shape in plan are 30 MPa, 15 MPa, and 7 MPa
respectively. This modeling result has been confirmed by actual geotechnical prism monitoring at
Grasberg surface mine.
Red dots in Figure 8 shows the geotechnical prism monitoring coverage at Grasberg surface
mine. The mine operation is provided with approximately 800 prisms and 5 Robotic Total Stations
(RTS) to supply continuous displacement slope monitoring data. The yellow boundary at Figure 8 is
the prism monitoring location which consist of different pit shapes (concave, straight, and convex),
while Figure 9 shows more detail monitoring location with its prism monitoring distribution. This
location is relatively in the same conditions: lithology (Limestone-good rock category), monitoring
period (approximately for 1.5 years) and elevation (3675L-3730L).
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1740

Figure 7: Stress trajectories of Grasberg surface mine shapes in plan for 3675L elevation
(Concave, straight and convex shape)

Figure 8: Prism monitoring at Grasberg Mine and monitoring location (yellow boundary)

Hoeks statement about effect of confinement has been confirmed by geotechnical modeling
which shows the concave shape in plan has highest confinement which associated with higher
differential stress value. Higher confinement means the slope is more stable and should be reflected
by lower deformation.
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1741

Figure 9: Prism monitoring location at Grasberg Mine for different pit shapes

Figure 10 shows the accumulative average deformation from prism monitoring data for a period
of April 2015-August 2016 for different pit shapes. It showed that the average accumulative
deformations were: concave (2.9 cm), straight (3.1 cm) and convex (3.6 cm). This data confirmed
Hoeks statement and geotechnical model result that different pit shape correlates with its stability
performance which associated with deformation. The data also confirmed that concave pit shape
provided lowest actual average deformation (14-20% less) which means more stable than others
(convex or straight).

Figure 10: Average accumulative deformation for different pit shapes in plan and the
concave pit shape in plan has lowest deformation
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1742

As the ultimate pit is achieved, meaning no change for both pit depth and geometry, the main
change of the geometry depends on underground cave propagation or underground mine production.
And as it could be understood that the cave propagation creates different change of crown pillar
Figure 11 shows the west-east cross section of the ultimate pit depth, cave propagation stages,
and reference points at pit bottom to show displacement changes. The geometry and dimension of the
caves are different following underground block caving reserve. The cave propagation stages refer to
the underground production scheduling for each period. The most critical time line of the transition
and interaction of open pit and underground mine is the time before the underground cave
breakthrough to the surface. Once the cave breakthrough to the pit bottom, it is more difficult to
control any issues at the open pit such as uncontrolled slope failure, dilution, and surface run off, etc.
which will impact significantly to the open pit slope stability and underground block cave mine
underneath. So it is critical to define critical period before underground cave or crown pillar will
breakthrough to the pit bottom.

Figure 11: Phase2 simulation for west-east cross section for different crown pillar
thickness and its reference points

According to Carter (2010), there are three basic approaches can be taken for design of new
crown pillar layout or for evaluating the stability of the surface pillars: empirical methods, structural
analysis and cavability assessments, also numerical modeling. The numerical model provides
relatively fast and reliable result for providing general guidance for mine operation, however still
need adjustments that replicates reality.
The simulation result from Phase2 (RS2) finite element program showed the influence of different
crown pillar thickness to the stresses and displacement at pit bottom. Figure 12 shows the modeling
results of crown pillar thickness changes to total displacement at the pit bottom for each rock category
(good, fair, and poor). In general the displacements occur at pit bottom is relatively similar compares
to that of crown pillar thickness changes for each rock category. The modeling result shows that the
displacements at the pit bottom are not sensitive to the cave propagation or crown pillar thickness
since the underground block cave will leave vertical pillar in between west cave and east cave.
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1743

Figure 13 show stress changes to the crown pillar thickness. The modeling result showed a
critical crown pillar thickness (80 meters) before stress dropping significantly. The simulation also
showed the same trend for different rock mass category (good, fair, and poor rock). However, the
change of differential stress acting at poor rock category is significantly less than others due to its
rock mass property. This is an early indication that the crown pillar start to be unstable and need to be
analyzed more detail to anticipate breakthrough to the surface.

Figure 12: Modeling result for total displacement changes at bottom pit for each crown pillar
thickness (For 3 different rock categories - Good, Fair, & Poor at West Cave)

Figure 13: Modeling result for different stress changes at bottom pit for each crown pillar
thickness (For 3 different rock categories - Good, Fair, & Poor at West Cave)
Vol. 22 [2017], Bund. 05 1744

The same trend is observed for both west cave and east cave, and hence the geometry of crown
pillar plays significant roles in stress change at the bottom pit, and will lead to be impacting to the
stability of open pit slope itself.
Sooner or later the block cave underground mine will breakthrough to the pit bottom following its
reserve, however the most critical one is to keep crown pillar stable for initial period of transition
from open pit to the underground mine (approximately 30-50% of underground reserve extraction). It
will reduce potential early slope failure which will be associated with potential dilution for
underground block cave mine underneath.

(1) Transition from the open pit to underground mining is required to continue the mine
production at the same orebody at Grasberg Open Pit Mine.
(2) The transition and interaction of open pit and underground mine have an implication in
geometry change for both areas. The geometry change creates different stresses and displacements. It
shows from the simulations as pit depth increases, the stress and displacement at the bottom pit
increases as well.
(3) Different pit shapes in plan correlate with different actual average deformation which
provided by actual prism data monitoring and geotechnical simulations. The concave pit shape
provided less actual average deformation compares to straight or convex shape (14-20% lower).
(4) The simulation shows the stress acts at the bottom pit is influenced by crown pillar thickness.
There is a critical crown pillar thickness which show dropping stress significantly at the pit bottom
(80 meters crown pillar thickness). This is an early indication that the crown pillar start to be unstable
and need to be analyzed more detail to anticipate breakthrough to surface.
(5) Some future works related to the impact of geometry and dimension change need to be
provided to identify and anticipate some technical issues in the future.

The authors would like to thank management of PT Freeport Indonesia for supporting the
research and permission to publish this paper. The contribution of engineers, geologists, and
technicians of Surface Mine GeoEngineering Department, also our colleagues from Mining
Engineering Department of Institut Teknologi Bandung are gratefully acknowledged

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2016 ejge

Editors note.
This paper may be referred to, in other articles, as:
Eman Widijanto, Ridho K. Wattimena, Suseno Kramadibrata, and Made
Astawa Rai: Geometry Effects on Slope Stability at Grasberg Mine
Through the Transition from Open Pit to Underground Block Cave Mining
Electronic Journal of Geotechnical Engineering, 2017 (22.05), pp 1733-
1745. Available at ejge.com.