By Brett Belzer, staff consultant
Many of Saskatchewan’s potash mines have been in operation for more than 50 years as a large number of those mines began sinking their shafts in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Cast‑in‑place concrete linings have been installed in many of these shafts and are exceeding or approaching their initial design life. Soon, potash producers will likely be looking for methods to extend the life of their operational assets, including shafts and other underground infrastructure such as storage bins, shaft stations, ramps, and main entries, while minimizing construction costs and downtime. Prioritizing and planning for such repair activities takes careful consideration.
RESPEC Company, LLC (RESPEC) has a long history of involvement within the potash mining industry. Dating back to its founding in 1969, RESPEC has remained focused on underground rock mechanics, specializing in the field of salt rock mechanics. Engineers at RESPEC have developed deep knowledge about the behaviour of salt and how creep and damage processes will occur under a wide range of stress and temperature. RESPEC has continued to grow and today encompasses several engineering disciplines, including structural, mechanical, and electrical, which complement the mining and geotechnical engineering fields in the underground space. Throughout its history, RESPEC has thrived on solving complex engineering problems for its mining clients.
Routine ground-control maintenance is often difficult and sometimes requires significant mine resources, and any issues related to the stability of the drift back, pillar ribs, or walls surrounding shafts, ramps, and storage bins may cause a major disruption to daily operations; therefore, well thought-out designs of these underground structures are critically important. RESPEC has performed multiple geomechanical studies to understand the geometry of storage bins and ramp systems to determine how these geometries may impact the response of the host rock. RESPEC routinely uses numerical modeling methods to quantify the vertical and radial deformation, damage to the surrounding rock, and tensile stress conditions around critical mine infrastructure to provide recommendations on ground support and help guide mining and operational decisions.
Providing on-site support during construction or routine inspections of critical mine infrastructure can help potash producers save money and prioritize rehabilitation activities. For example, RESPEC takes visual observations and measurements during an inspection to assess structural stability and integrity, and help determine when action should be taken. Often, the observations and measurements are compared to previous inspections and historical data to identify any differences in the current conditions. Findings are reported to the client regarding the necessity of reestablishing the integrity to maintain long-term stability and addressing identified hazards that may pose a risk to on-site personnel or impact operations.
The RESPEC team comprises of subject-matter experts in hydrogeology, potash geology, rock mechanics, underground structural engineering, and mineshaft inspections, specifically in evaporite mines. RESPEC’s worldwide potash and salt expertise provides our team with unsurpassed knowledge of hydrogeologic systems, the behaviour of salt rock, rock-structure interaction, and interpreting datasets to support mining project solutions. Whether it is new underground infrastructure or rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, RESPEC can offer solutions to a variety of unique challenges.