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Geological Controls on Drilling and Blasting Operations - Trevor Little

Geological Controls on Drilling and Blasting Operations - Trevor Little

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Geological Controls on Drilling and Blasting Operations - Trevor Little
Geological Controls on Drilling and Blasting Operations - Trevor Little

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Published by: SimonCooper87 on Jul 10, 2014
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This paper addresses the conference theme ‘controlled
productivity’. In particular it deals with the infuences, controls
and constraints that geology imposes on many aspects of
drilling and blasting design, operations and results. Figure 1
illustrates this ft to the conference theme.
There are many man-imposed controls on blasting prod-
uctivity, such as: legislative (safety, dangerous goods,
security, environmental), community (safety, social, heritage,
and emissions), explosive user requirements (safety, sus-
tainability, procedures, rosters, economic leverage), and
technology (hardware, software and knowledge). This creates
a lot of ‘noise’ and it is possible for some operators to lose
sight of the controls imposed by nature.
This paper provides an integrated and conceptual approach
to the understanding and importance of blasting geology
and attempts to show that almost every aspect of blasting
is infuenced by aspects of the rock mass geology. Central
to this approach is the notion of ‘starting at both ends’ which
is depicted in Figure 2.
Beginning with the end in mind
This notion of ‘beginning with the end in mind’ is expressed
by Little (1999a) as the blasting objective.
Formulating this objective is the critical step to leverage
blasting operations. In other words, the objective is to make
small improvements to the blasting operation to obtain a
large economic gain.
1. MAusIMM, Principal Consultant, TNLC Blasting Geomechanics, Suite A, 20 Cinnabar Place, Carine WA 6020. Email: trevor.little@tnlc.com.au
Geological Controls on Drilling
and Blasting Operations
T N Little
This review paper presents an integrated and practical insight to blasting geology and its
importance. This approach involves developing blasting objective up front and implementing
geology specifc blast designs. The author refers to this approach as ‘starting at both ends’.
There are many human-imposed controls on blasting operations, such as: safety, security,
legislative, company standards, heritage, and environmental constraints. Thus it is possible for
some operators to lose sight of the controls imposed by nature. This paper demonstrates how site
geology controls or infuences many aspects of the rock breaking processes and how a focus on
this aspect has potential to add considerable value to mining operations. It is obvious that mining
companies concentrate their efforts on economic/ore geology (good rock geology). However it is
the author’s experience that they also concentrate on engineering geology (bad rock geology) only
when forced to do so by the ground conditions, but seem to run out of puff before they apply
blasting geology (big rock geology).
This paper contains fve main sections. In the frst section, the impact of geological controls
on blasthole drilling is briefy discussed in terms of drill selection, penetration rates, bit wear,
blasthole stability, blasthole deviation, and health precautions. In the second section the geological
controls on aspects of geometric design are reviewed. These include: hazardous minerals, valuable
minerals, selection of the blasting techniques, geological structures, blasting direction, and
blasting geometry. Section three overlaps with the geometric design section and deals with aspects
related to explosives. Topics addressed include selecting the explosive type based on geology,
distribution of explosive charge in space and time, explosive performance, and the rock response to
explosive loading. In the fourth section, examples are given of the operational complexity needed
to implement a blast to cater for diffcult bench geologies, environment constraints, past mining
(voids) and need for a high degree of quality control. Section fve demonstrates geological controls
on blast results. Blasting results include the muck pile characteristics, downstream handling and
processing, damage to the remaining rock, and blasting emissions.
FIG 1 - Alignment of this paper with the conference theme.
‘Beginning with the end in mind’ involves the following stages:
• developing a mine and mill process model;
• identifying site specifc economic leverage points;
• determining which points are sensitive to blasting;
• formulating blasting objectives;
• prioritising any conficting blasting objective, setting
operational targets, establishing a continuous improvement
loop; and
• determining procedures for implementation.
Little (1999a) also provided examples of blasting
objectives for civil, surface mine and underground mine
blasting applications.
Starting at the beginning
The drill and blast function at a mine is to supply suitably
fragmented geological material using commercial explosives.
‘Starting at the beginning’ involves developing a sound
understanding of the geology model and the geological
materials and structures that will be encountered during
blasting operations. Thus this model is intimately related
to the physical properties of the rock mass and the mineral
composition, which are dependent on their origin and
mode of formation. The geological model is used as the
basis for development of the engineering geology model for
drillability, blastability and blast damage. It should be noted
that geologists can have a major role here to ensure that the
geological model is not misinterpreted and to assist with
refnements required to develop the engineering geology
blasting models.
Starting at both ends
The idea of ‘Starting at both ends’ was introduced by Little
(1999a), to combine the previous two concepts simultaneously.
It involves having a clear and upfront understanding of the
blasting objectives and geological environment. In other
words, drill and blast operators, in conjunction with mining
geologists and geotechnical engineers, should be ‘starting
at both ends’. This will enable blasting operations to progress
with confdence and also have the fexibility to add refnements
in an effcient manner. It should be noted that unlike some
other felds of engineering, blasting has a relatively short
feedback cycle that is measured in weeks, which can be both
a blessing and a curse.
In this section the geological controls/constraints on
blasthole drilling are briefy discussed. Geology controls the
rate of penetration, the amount of bit wear, the stability of
the drill hole, and in the case of longer and inclined holes,
the hole deviation. The mineralogy can also dictate operating
practices and requirements for specifc personal protection
equipment and/or decontamination procedures.
Drilling and blasting are intimately linked operations.
If drilling is not carried out properly, blasts are unable
to provide muck piles having the characteristics
required for subsequent operations. Optimum drilling
is a pre-requisite of optimum blasting (Hagan, 1983).
Blasthole drilling performance is assessed by whether the
hole is drilled within specifcations. For example hole diameter,
depth, stability, position, and deviation. Also whether relevant
rock mass information is obtained. The economics of drilling
can be severely compromised if the drillability (see Figure 3),
turns out lower than expected. This may be due to diffculty
FIG 2 - Starting at both ends (after Little, 1999a).
Modified from
ADIA 2006
FIG 3 - First pass guide to drillability.
to maintain hole stability, lower penetration rates and/or
excessive bit wear.
In order to keep this paper to manageable size, only a brief
summary of the ‘geological controls on blasthole drilling’ will
be given here:
• The selection of the drill rig and the bit design is done on
the basis of the geology.
• Amount of drilling required to fragment a volume of rock
is controlled by the geology.
• Penetration rate is controlled by the mineral composition
and micro-fabric, eg porosity and quartz. It is also
controlled by elastic/plastic behaviour, the mechanical
rock properties, the rock mass conditions, and
discontinuity networks present.
• Bit life depends on the percentage of minerals with a
hardness (abrasiveness) greater than that of steel.
• Hole stability is controlled by the rock strength and
sensitivity of the wall rock to the atmosphere, water and/
or stress relief.
• Deviation is affected by geological structures especially
for long, inclined and small diameter blastholes.
• Presence of hazardous mineral can infuence the drilling
practice and health and safety provisions required.
In this section the controls that geology places on the
geometric design parameters are reviewed. This concept is
not new and is probably better considered as ‘blast design
modifed to ft the geology’. Figure 4 shows that the rock type,
discontinuities and weathering/alteration patterns infuence
burden and spacing dimensions. Discontinuities can be taken
in account when selecting the blasting direction. Also shown
is that the orebody characteristics infuence the blast method.
Controls due to hazardous minerals
The relationships between certain mineral assemblages and
blasting safety hazards was the subject of a paper by Little
and Blair (2011). The high inherent safety risk consequences
identifed included: premature explosion, geothermal
outbursts, asbestosis and mesothelioma, uncontrolled fyrock,
opening safety (falling from a height), freballs, secondary dust
explosions, and misfre safety. Figure 5 illustrates the hazard
and the unwanted consequences for eight hazardous ground
conditions. These all add operational complexity.
Controls due to valuable minerals
The impact of valuable mineral distribution (grade) on blast
design geometry will be discussed here. In ore blocks the
blasting objective nearly always relates to grade control and
in particular minimising ore/waste mixing which results in
dilution if sent to the processing plant and ore loss if sent
to the waste dump. Figure 6 shows the economic leverage
for ore mining to be a high degree of selectivity. For waste
or overburden mining the economic leverage relates to high
production rates.
Geology and selection of the blasting
The selection of the appropriate blasting technique is to
a large degree controlled by the geology of the deposit.
Table 1 shows nine different geological environments based
on deposit geometry (simple, moderately complex, complex)
and variability (coeffcient of variation – COV). Examples of
deposit for each geological environment are also given. The
appropriate blasting methods are also identifed using the
following defnitions:
• selective blast – only single material type being blasted,
for example: waste, ore, overburden, coal;
• bulk blast – more than one material type being blasted,
for example: ore and waste (grade control blasting);
overburden and coal (through seam blasting);
• bench blast – blast using a subvertical free face;
• paddock blast – blast fring to a horizontal free face; and
• buffer blast – blast fring to a buffer rock pile (not
differentiated in the tabulation).
Controls due to rock strength properties
In the frst example, rock strength and porosity properties
are used to control spacing and burden design. The example
relates to Mt Whaleback Iron Ore Mine, in Western Australia
and is based on the work on Bellairs (1986). Table 2 provides
suggested design changes based on ore type and characteristics.
FIG 4 - Blast design modifed to ft the geology.
A second example was reported by Ouchterlony, Niklasson
and Abrahamsson (1990) it discusses how a detailed
geological appraisal provided benefts to design. Monitoring
the fragmentation of production quarry blasts found that
the presence of a porous band (porosity up to 20 per cent)
within the rock unit governed the fragmentation and that
increasing the amount of explosives therefore had no effect
on fragmentation. Savings of up to 40 per cent in drilling and
blasting costs were achieved by using a sparser drilling pattern
which resulted only in a slightly coarser fragmentation.
Understanding geological control paid off in that case!
A third consideration related to rock mass strength is the
effect of alteration and weathering. The processes of alteration
and weathering lead to a deterioration of the rock strength
and may completely change the mechanical properties and
behaviour of rocks.
For most rocks, except for the weaker types, these processes
are likely to have great infuence on the ease of blasting such
rock masses. Hence, the description and characterisation of
rock masses should pay particular attention to such features
and this should feed into design changes.
Controls due to geological structures
It is impossible and to consider all pre-existing discontinuities
in the rock mass when designing blasts. Sauvage and Blanchier
(2004) published a good paper on how to improve blasts by
using only the most active rock variations.
Where structural control is strong, it is frequently possible
to discern fragment features in the blasted muck pile which
formed part of the original geological structure. The term
‘remnant geology’ is proposed to defne these post-blast
geological features. This represents a means to assess the
extent and nature of structural control over fragmentation.
The evaluation of remnant geology is by measurement of a
parameter termed the Remnant Index (Scoble et al, 1996). It
is computed using image analysis of muck pile photographs as
the ratio of the fragment surface areas which are interpreted
to be pre-existing (inherent discontinuities) as well as new
(blast fractures). This has been found to relate well to inherent
fragmentation and rock mass strength in a range of geological
The type of information contained in Table 3 is very useful
for explosive selection and blast design purposes.
Geological controls on blasting direction
Geological structures are present in all rock masses. The
orientation of the free face (or direction of mining) can
sometimes be varied to avoid potential issues (Burkle 1979;
Lande, 1983; JKMRC, 1996):
• vertical or steeply dipping structure (strike parallel to
face) – potential blocky fragmentation and potential toe
fragmentation problems and/or damage,
• horizontal structure – potential wall damage,
FIG 5 - Blasting hazards related to geology (Little and Blair, 2011).
FIG 6 - Economic leverage versus bench height.
• inclined structure (against dip but striking parallel to face)
– potential wall problems and potential toe fragmentation
problems and/or damage, and
• inclined structure (with dip but striking parallel to face)
– potential back-break and wall damage and potential
toe fragmentation problems and/or damage.
Geological controls on blasting geometry
The controls that geology places on blasting geometry
are numerous. Table 4 lists the geological infuences on the
geometric design parameters for single blastholes and for
a single blast.
There needs to be increased understanding of the basic
principles that underlie explosive selection and blast
design for different rock mass conditions and mining
environments. This understanding must not be the
exclusive province of the explosives manufacturers ...
(Scott, Le Juge and Waldock, 2004).
Four aspects are briefy considered here, the interaction
between them is depicted in Figure 7:
• geological basis for selecting the explosive type,
• distribution of the charge in space and time,
• geological controls on explosive performance, and
• rock response during blasting.
Geological basis for selecting the explosive type
Table 5 provides guidance on explosive-rock matching and
explosive selection.
Geological controls on distribution
of the charge in space and time
Tables 6 and 7 are used as pointers to the numerous controls
that geology impose on the distribution of the explosive charge
and the timing as we aim to achieve optimum blasting results.
It should be noted that the blasting objective also strongly
infuences the distribution, for example, in cast blasting.
Geological controls on explosive performance
Explosives are designed to detonate in a blasthole to produce
very high temperature and pressure gases. This detonation
initially imposes a shock wave on the surrounding rock
suffciently strong to create new fractures and extends existing
structures in the rock material. The expanding explosive gases
then penetrate these fractures to extend them and displace the
resulting rock fragments. The amount of energy provided by
Low variability
(COV <0.25)
Moderate variability
(COV > 0.25 to < 0.75)
High variability
(COV >0.75)
Simple geometry
Deposit description
• Tabular, continuous grade and thickness
• Flat or constant dip
• Tabular, large ore pods
• Moderately variable grade
• Tabular, small ore pods
• Highly variable grade
Example deposits
• Evaporite
• Sedimentary iron
• Limestone
• Coal
• Stratiform copper
• Mississippi Valley lead
• Simple porphyry copper, molybdenum
• Gold veins
• Gold placers
• New Mexico uranium
• Alluvial diamond
Blasting methods
• May not need blasting
• Selective bench blasting
• Bulk bench blasting
• Selective and bulk bench blasting
• May not need blasting
• Selective paddock or bench blasting
Moderately complex geometry
Deposit description
• Simple bedded
• Uniform grade but erratic thickness, gentle
folding, or simple faulting
• Simple three-dimensional geometry
• Moderately variable grade
• Simple three-dimensional geometry
• Two-dimensional with smaller, more erratic ore pods
• Simple folding, faulting
Example deposits
• Bauxite (variable thickness)
• Lateritic nickel (variable thickness)
• Salt dome
• Porphyry copper
• Porphyry molybdenum
• Stockwork and Carline-type gold
• Volcanogenic base metals
Blasting methods
• May not need blasting
• Bulk paddock blasting
• Bulk bench blasting • Bulk bench blasting and selective digging
Complex geometry
Deposit description
• Otherwise simple deposits that have been
severely folded and faulted
• Complex geometry due to faulting, folding or
multiple mineralisation controls
• Moderately variable grade
• Deposits with extremely variable grade and highly
contorted, complex ore shapes
• Typically little continuity between individual ore zones
Example deposits
• Talc
• Gypsum (deformed)
• Tungsten skarns (folding/ faulting)
• Base metal skarns (erratic shape)
• Cu porphyry combined with local skarns or
replacements (multiple controls)
• Archean gold deposits
• Roll front uranium
Blasting methods
• May not need blasting
• Bulk or selective bench blasting
• Bulk or selective bench blasting
• Bulk and selective bench blasting
• Bulk or selective paddock blasting
Selection of blast method based on deposit geometry and variability.
the explosive is therefore critical to its blasting performance,
as is the nature of that energy and the rate at which it is
released. The velocity of detonation (VOD) is the rate at
which the detonation front travels through the explosive
charge. VOD is an important indicator of the performance
of the explosive and is infuenced by the blasthole diameter,
confnement (related to geology), density, and the nature
and quality of the explosive. The VOD controls the rate of
release of explosive energy and partitioning of that energy.
Various explosive formulations provide different rates
of loading and different splits between shock and heave energy.
Knowledge of this performance involves an understanding
of both the detonic characteristics of the explosive and the
response of the rock mass. This is sometime referred to as
the explosive-rock interaction, and is illustrated in Figure 7.
On a fnal note, Lownds (1975) calculated venting pressures
and the effective work done by the explosive gases for different
explosives in different rock types and showed that the same
explosive delivers more energy in soft rock than hard rock.
Rock response during blasting
The response of the rock to the explosive loading involves
rock properties at all scales and is a complex area of research.
Rock micro-structure refers to features on a similar scale as
grain size such as microcracks and microvoids. The intact
properties of rock are sensitive to these micro-structural
features, particularly when they are preferentially oriented.
The preferred orientations of the micro-structure can produce
anisotropic wave attenuation and strength characteristics,
which may infuence the resulting crack growth and hence
rock breakage. The intact rock properties relevant to rock
response include: dynamic rock strengths, density, porosity,
elastic moduli, Poisson’s Ratio and fracture toughness. At the
rock mass (blast scale) rock macro-structure, such as joint
or discontinuities, can also result in anisotropic behaviour.
However, on this larger scale, rock breakage is much more
infuenced by the three dimensional spacing, orientation and
extent of structure than by micro-structure. The response
of the rock to explosive loading is strain rate dependent and
it is what produces most of the dynamics during the blast and
the post blast results discussed in the fnal section of this paper.
The degree of operational complexity is dictated by the
specifc ground conditions and associated blast design. This
includes any special explosive loading and fring procedures.
Rock type Surface type % area Remnant index
Joint 54.0
3.67:1 Foliation 24.5
Blast fracture 21.6
Sepentinised ultramafc
Joint 48.6
1.13:1 Foliation 4.6
Blast fracture 47.0
Massive sulfde
Joint 2.4
Blast fracture 97.4
Limestone (Quarry #1)
Joint 12.0
0.86:1 Bedding 34.4
Blast fracture 53.6
Limestone (Quarry #2)
Joint 17.5
0.56:1 Bedding 18.2
Blast fracture 64.3
Joint 9.6
Blast fracture 90.2
Remnant index for various rock types (after Scoble et al, 1996).
Ore description and properties Blasting objective Design changes (380 mm blastholes)
• Very hard: massive or bedded non-porous to slightly porous
• Hard: inter-bedded ore with bands of hard material of low
porosity (major)
• Lump: 60 - 66%
• Porosity: 10 ± 5% to 15 ± 5%
• Face appearance: block to very blocky
• To improve muck pile looseness by
reducing toe and oversize
• Decrease the burden and spacing (8.5 m – 9.1 m equilateral triangle
• Increase length of subdrill
• Increase stemming length especially in the front row blastholes
• Locate a small pocket charge within the stemming
• Moderately hard: bedded ore with equal amounts of porous and
non-porous ore
• Moderately soft: bedded to poorly bedded with more soft porous
bands than harder non porous bands
• Lump: 45 - 60%
• Porosity: 25 ± 5% to 35 ± 5%
• Face appearance: lumps tend to be smaller with more rounded
edges – fnes more noticeable
• To improve muck pile uniformity by
matching powder factor to hardness
variations. Also to reduce fyrock.
• Pattern (11 m equilateral triangle) appears to be tailored for these
medium hardness ores
• Reductions in powder factors via variable stemming lengths matched
to hardness variations within these ore types
• Increase stemming lengths of front row holes to combat fyrock
• Soft to moderately soft: poddy ore
• Soft: with biscuit appearance (ore consists of thin (mm to cm)
inter-bedded moderately hard and soft layers)
• Very soft: porous dust ore
• Lump: <30 - 50%
• Porosity: up to 60%
• Face appearance: mass of biscuit fakes. Rill tends to crunch
underfoot. Very soft is mainly dust with little lump
• To reduce volume of fnes generated
in blasting and the numbers of
overblast events
• Increase the burden and spacing (9.5 m - 13.0 m equilateral
triangle pattern)
• Increasing stemming length especially in the front row blastholes
• Reducing the length of subdrill
• Locating the frst row of blastholes further from the face
• Using decking in poddy ores to reduce the boulder count
Examples of design changes based on ore type characteristics.
The term operational complexity relates to the control regime
– practices, provisions or procedures – to ensure safe and
productive blasting operations. Table 8 shows a number of
different categories that lead to operational complexity.
Blast design can be modifed to suit the actual geology
in the blast volume. If this is done then bench geology directly
infuences the blast design. Once the design is implemented
Design parameters Controllable variations Infuence of geology
Single hole
Blasthole diameter • Standard drill bit sizes up to 380 mm • Rock mass properties, degree of fragmentation required, bench height
Bench height
• Aim is to make this uniform once the impact of topography has been
• Related to commodity type, eg coal, iron ore
• Degree of selectivity required and the digging units used
• Geological structure may cause blasthole deviation
Subdrill length • Subdrill length plus bench height give the blasthole length
• Strength of rock in toe region
• Horizontal sedimentary rock versus massive rock.
Stemming column • Length of hole at collar which is flled with non-explosive material
• Strength of rock in collar region
• Stemming column of inert material at least 0.7 times the burden
Stemming material • Drill cuttings or crushed aggregate • Weak rock masses give poor quality drill cutting especially if wet
Blasthole inclination • Vertical, inclined, phased incline, or double stitched • Related to rock strength and burden on front row
Number of explosive decks • Location of explosive decks in blasthole • Related to hard zones or cavities in rock mass
Satellite hole diameter • Holes in between main blastholes used for caprock or permafrost blasting • Hard rock strata or permafrost on surface
Satellite hole length and
• Length related to thickness of strong surface material.
• Generally parallel to main blastholes
• Caprock thickness and strength variations
Single blast
Drill burden • Distance to the free face. The amount of work to be done • Strength, porosity, blockiness of rock mass
Drill spacing • Distance between holes in the same row • Strength, porosity, blockiness of rock mass
Drill pattern • Square or rectangular, staggered or aligned, equilateral triangle patterns • As per spacing and burden
Lithology units
• Single rock type or mixed geology or mixed grade zones.
• Related to blasting strategy
• Number of diferent material classes in blast volume
Blasting direction
• Blasting direction relative to free face and dip and dip direction of major
• Related to major structures dip and dip direction
Free face condition • Bufered, vertical, horizontal, inclined • Depends on geological structures and production requirements
Blast size • No of rows and holes per row. As large as possible to avoid boundary efects • Depends on blasting objective and safety/production requirements.
Blast shape • Length to width ratio >3 if possible for production blasts • Depends on blasting objective and safety/production requirements.
Partial design parameters for given blasting objective and assumed explosive.
FIG 7 - Geological controls on explosive selection and the explosive-rock interaction which takes place during the blast.
and the blast is fred the interaction between the blast design
(geometric parameters, initiation system, explosive type and
distribution) and the bench geology also directly infuence the
performance of the explosive reaction and the effective work
done. Finally the interaction between the bench geology, the
blast design and the explosive performance produce the blast
result. These relationships are presented in Figure 8.
Blast results can be discussed in fve categories. They are
the muck pile, the remaining rock, the blasting emissions,
downstream handling and processing, and costs. In keeping
with the paper theme (geology) only the frst three categories
of results will be discussed in detail.
The muck pile
All the value from the blast is in the muck pile. Table 9 describes
the characteristics of a muck pile using fve categories, namely:
geometric, physical, chemical, mechanical and grade.
For each category the particular features of interest are
listed along with a description of the feature and the infuence
of geology.
Downstream handling and processing
With regard to the ore stream the ease of selecting, digging,
crushing and grinding the ore are the main economic factors
and these can be used to provide feedback to the blasting
team. The need for secondary blasting is also important.
Blasting has an important impact on mining and milling
well beyond the necessary ability to dig and load the ore
effciently. There is an increasing body of blasting research
that indicates the signifcant impact of blasting on crushing
and grinding performance (Neilsen et al, 1996). Other
benefts include increased production through higher
output and fewer delays for bridging and jamming by
oversize. In addition, fragmentation better suited to the
crushing and grinding system is indicated to lead to reduce
energy consumption by these activities, an important result
in today’s environment. The strength of the fragments
produced in a blast is clearly important to the performance
of the crushing and grinding circuit as it affects the energy
required to break the feed to a target product size.
An important component of optimum fragmentation for
this purpose appears to be micro-fracturing within indi-
vidual fragments. This differs from fragmentation criteria
for loading which focus mostly on fragment size. Therefore,
one must analyse blasting broadly to obtain satisfactory
results throughout the operation.
Rock type Explosive rock matching Suggested explosive
Resistant massive rocks
• Few joints and planes of weakness
• High shock energy is needed to create new cracks and surfaces
• Requires explosives with high density and VOD
• Slurries, water gels
• Emulsions
Highly jointed rocks
• Joints intersect and stop propagating radial cracks from high shock energy explosives
• High gas energy explosives are required to expand and develop pre-existing cracks
• ANFO-Emulsion blends
Blocky rocks
• Large spacing between discontinuities form large blocks or boulders
• Further fragmentation is controlled by the explosive properties
• Requires an explosive with approximately equal shock and gas energy
• ANFO-Emulsion blends
• Heavy ANFO
Porous weak rocks
• High porosity absorbs shock energy, leaving gas energy to provide the fragmentation
• Requires low density and VOD explosives
• Diluted ANFO
Explosive rock matching guidance.
Rock characteristics
Infuences on explosive related
blast design
Intact rock properties
Rock matrix
• chemistry (mineralogy)
• grain size
• strength and density
• Type of explosive (reactive ground)
• Energy consumption (powder factor)
• Shock wave velocity (intact)
• Inter-row delay (strength)
Grains cementing:
• degree of cohesion
• porosity
Rock mass properties
Stratifed rock
• Bed thickness
• Bedding plane nature
• Dip and blast direction
• Energy consumption (powder factor)
• Energy distribution (eg subdrill)
• Shock wave propagation
• Confnement
Lateral variations
• Domains
• Compositional changes
• Energy consumption and distribution
Individual structure sets
• Joints
• Faults
• Foliation
• Initial block size
• Confnement
• Shock wave propagation
Family networks
• Interaction of sets
• Initial block size
• Inter-row delay (jointed)
Cracks from previous blast
• Opening of one family
• New cracks produced
• Initial block size
• Confnement
• Shock wave propagation
Chemical alterations
• Rock cohesion changes
• Composition changes
• Cavities
• Type of explosive (reactive ground)
• Energy consumption (less needed if weakened)
• Energy distribution (decking)
• Dynamic (moving water)
• Static
• Type of explosive (water resistant, need for liners,
• Energy distribution (base charge etc)
• Shock wave propagation (better coupling, more
• Inter-row delay
Useful rock mass characteristics (modifed from Sauvage and Blanchier, 2004).
Geological control on micro-fracturing
Cracks in rock are produced when the local stress exceeds
the local strength. It should be noted that micro-cracks are
formed differently in different rock types. This is because
the conditions for fracture initiation and propagation vary
a great deal between different geologies. The creation and
propagation of microcracks are dependent on the strength
of existing weakness planes. Jern (2002) indicated three
different types of faws where a microcrack can start to grow:
1. Existing microcracks: the existence of pre-existing
microcracks is mainly due to differences in the thermo-
mechanical mineral properties (Seo et al, 2002). In
particular, granites commonly seem to exhibit microcracks.
2. Weak grain boundaries: this depends on the symmetry
and type of minerals in contact with each other. Grain
boundary cracks are more prevalent with quartz grains
than other minerals.
3. Cleavage planes: highly cleaved minerals such as mica
act as Griffth cracks generating new micro-cracks.
This has also been observed, but to a lesser extent, with
feldspar in granite.
The continuous propagation of micro-cracks is dependent on
the rock’s resistance to deformation. This can be summarised
under fve headings (Jern, 2002):
1. Grain size: a fracture propagates better through a single
grain than through several, ie smaller grain size endows
rock with greater strength and growing cracks can be
stopped by intersecting non-growing cracks. On the other
hand, if grains are too small, they cease to act as grains and
this effect is lost (chert, some vulcanites).
Design parameters Controllable variations Infuence of geology
Single hole
Stemming column
• Length of inert material at collar of hole
• Any stemming plug devices
• Blockiness of collar region rock and need for confnement
Stemming material
• Inert material in hole collar to confne explosive reaction for a period
of time
• Good quality crush aggregate is best. Strong rock drill cutting also work
Coupling • % of hole cross-section flled with explosives • Decoupled to avoid damage
Explosive type (s) • ANFO, Heavy ANFO, emulsion blends, watergel and diluted ANFO
• Selected based on groundwater condition and nature of the rock mass
and blast type
Charge distribution
• Charge at base, in column, or in deck
• May use stronger base charge than column charge
• Location matched to where work needs to be done based on geology
and geometry
Decking / Pocket / Satellite • Number and length of inert material decks or air decks • Related to hard band and cavity locations
Primer location • Top, centre, base priming in each deck
• Located to avoid certain weak structures.
• Use to direct energy
In-hole delay • Delay timing in milli-seconds in the hole
• Related to the required burning front.
• Flyrock from brittle rock
Single Blast
Initiation type
• Signal tube, electric, detonating cord and delay connectors, or
electronic detonators
• Relates to cost. Need for accuracy
Delay sequence • Row by row, Chevron (V, V1, V2), Echelon, Centre lift • Related to direction of movement required depends on rock structure
Delays between holes • Delay between hole in the same row • Crack prorogation velocity which is related to rock wave velocities
Delays between rows • Delay between rows for any delay confguration • Depends on strength, structure, groundwater in the rock
Distribution of charge weight in
space and times
• Time each charge is designed to initiate
• Distribution of the explosive charge
• Adjust according to the lithology and structure in the rock mass
Explosive related partial design parameters for given blasting objective and assumed explosive.
FIG 8 - The direct and indirect infuences of bench geology on blast results.
2. Grain boundary symmetry: it takes less stress to
propagate a crack in a straight grain boundary than a
curved one.
3. Cleavage: in some minerals the cracks normally follow
cleavage planes is close to zero and easily opened.
4. Stiffness: stiffer minerals tend to exhibit more microcracks,
most commonly quartz in granitoids. Examples
of granitoid rocks include granite, quartz monzonite,
quartz diorite, syenite, and granodiorite.
5. Texture: mineral grains that are orientated in irregular
patterns are more resistant to fracture propagation
than grains in more ordered textures. For example
granite-gneiss (irregular) compared with granite-dolerite
(more ordered).
Geological control on fnes
Excessive fragmentation can lead to the generation
of a signifcant proportion of fne material. Weak rocks have
a higher propensity to generate fnes (and dust, see blast
emissions) than stronger rocks. Fines generation may be
of little consequence in waste operations but can have major
economic impact on processing effciency and value of
Category Potential hazards/threats Controls
Hazardous ground type
Reactive ground
Premature explosion or failure of initiation system – nitrate
based explosive react with sulphide in the rock mass to
generate heat and sulphur dioxide gas
• Geological logging of blastholes
• Temperature log blastholes before loading
• Don’t load holes over 50°C
• Fire blastholes the same day as loaded
• Dig muck pile as soon as possible
Conductive ground
Misfres – Conductive ground can trigger detonators prior to
fring which dangerous when holes are still being charged
• Avoid using electric fring
• Tape up all electrical connection
• Test the ground resistance
Elevated temperature ground
Premature explosion or misfres - thermal efects may cause
explosive to detonate or initiation system to deteriorate
• Geological logging of blastholes
• Temperature log blastholes before loading
• Don’t load holes over 50°C
• Fire blastholes the same day as loaded
• Dig muck pile as soon as possible
Geothermal ground
Geothermal outbursts – acid sulphate hot springs, boiling
mudpools, fumaroles, noxious gasses
• Delineation of hazard zones
• Hazards reduction and temperature logging
• Product selection, sleep time, training, PPE
Dynamic water
Misfres or poor blast results – dynamic water levels can vary
with the seasons, water moving in the rock can pass through
and remove some of the bulk explosives destroying column
continuity and possible water pollution
• Multiple priming is advised
• Use emulsion based explosives or packaged products
• Mine scale dewatering, restricted area dewatering or individual blasthole
• Blasthole liners can also be used
Mining near underground
openings and natural cavities
Flyrock and poor blast results – Cavities can facilitate
overloading of rock mass resulting in venting and fyrock.
Also,can prematurely vent explosive gases causing fyrock
and airblast
• High quality drill logging and cavity monitoring
• Site investigation (probing) and deck loading
• Attention to column rise with explosive quantity
• Flagging and additional blast clearance zone
Mixed ground
Weak zones or blocky rock – reduced the energy produced from
the explosions. Potential for airblast and fyrock
• Place deck charge at strong sections of the blasthole and additional priming
• Placing inert fll at weak zones within the blasthole
Flyrock and poor blast results – Floaters which are present
in the bench are sources of potential fyrock if they are not
fragmented by the blast
• Use seismic surveys to locate foaters
• Avoid overcharging especially at the bench face
Wild fyrock impact worker – Restriction on size of blast
exclusion zone. Difcult near surface conditions.
• Blast exclusion zone
• Direction of blasting
• Risk assessment for each blast
• Quality control team to measure all parameters
• Management input and sign-of
Fibrous ground
Health problems – Asbestosis (progressive and irreversible
scarring of lung tissue), lung cancer (cancer of the bronchial
lining or lung tissue), mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of
the chest cavity).
• Do not blast if adverse wind conditions
• Blast sites wetted down before blasting
• Re-entry after dust settled and muck wetted
• No fbrous drill cuttings used as stemming
• High level of quality control and supervision
Sources of operational complexity.
With regard to wall damage, it is worthwhile considering
a conceptual model of the interaction of blasting on the rock
mass condition. This model is illustrated in Figure 9, which
shows a blasthole initiating across a contact between strong
and weak rock.
mineral products. For example, fne coal is diffcult to handle,
suffers low yield, carries excessive moisture and often attracts
a lower sales price. Quarry products are sold on the basis of size
and shape and are particularly prone to a reduction in value
from over-blasting. Iron ore fnes are sold at a reduced price,
but that differential is currently decreasing. Excessive fnes
in low grade gold ore heaps can slow down leaching operations
(JKMRC, 1996).
Damage to the remaining rock mass
Although all the value is in the muck pile, specifc blasts may
also lead to unexpected costs in the form of wall damage, and
to a lesser extent foor damage as well as excessive toe. Wall
damage and stress relaxation only, will be briefy considered.
Wall and slope damage
Little (1999b) concluded that slope reliability can be severely
compromised if the slopes are damaged by blasting and that
this impact is often not incorporated into the slope design
process. It was also noted that the location and extent of the
blast damage will impact some slope failure geometries and
failure modes (eg planar, toppling, passive-active wedge,
circular failure) more than others. Stability analysis also
indicated that this blast damage can be extreme for weak
ground conditions.
Category Description Geological infuence
Geometric features
Centre of gravity of mass Used to assess the distance of throw Related to rock density
Spread Concentration around centre of gravity
Related to geology via the blast design Skewness Asymmetry in preferred concentration far out or concentrated near face
Flatness Essentially the muck pile topography
Rotation The direction of the principal axis of rotation of the mass Related to the in situ discontinuity network
Physical features
Fragment size distribution The full range of size fraction, including oversize and fnes, in the muck pile Related to the in situ rock strength variations and discontinuity network
Fragment shape distribution Fragment angularity is infuenced by the structural geology in the bench Related to the in situ discontinuity network
Swell distribution Bulking ratio between bank and loose volumes and may vary within muck pile Related to rock mass variability and initiation sequence
Void ratio (swell %) Related to swell or looseness, higher value give improved diggability Swell factors for diferent rock types have been published for many years
Compaction (packing) Infll of pore space by blast generated fnes which can pack together Weaker materials have a propensity to generate fnes
Moisture content Reduces bulk density and strength, it improves diggability, if not too sticky Related to the in situ materials and/or groundwater regimes
Stickiness When mineral fragments absorb moisture to create a cohesive sludge Related to fne hydrophilic mineral percentages
Chemical features
Oxidation Interaction of oxygen with the muck pile can lower the shear strength
Related to mineral composition, environment and time in muck pile Other weathering Dissolution, hydrolysis, biological, carbonation, and hydration
Cementation Hardening and welding of fragments by mineral precipitation in pore spaces
Mechanical features
Diggability Muck piles resistance to the loading units digging force Indirectly related to geology via blast design
Abrasiveness Degree is measured by the rock’s ability to wear away ground engaging tools This is governed by fragment mineralogy, especially sharp quartz
Anisotropy Directionally dependent muck, relates to the direction of digging/loading Related to the in situ discontinuity network
Floor profle Controlled by subgrade drilling and blast design. Toe leads to difcult digging Related to rock strength and geological structures
Internal fractures Blast induced fracture within fragments that aid comminution processes Related to existing microcracks, weak grain boundaries and cleavage planes
Grade features
Ore/waste mixing Blast induced mixing of ore and waste, leads to dilution or ore loss or both
Related to geology via the blasting strategy and blast design Horizontal movement Used to determine where to mark-up post blast ore boundaries
Vertical movement Used to determine fitch heights in multi-pass operations
Infuence of geology on muck pile characteristics.
FIG 9 - Wave propagation and ground movement for blasting in strong and
weak rock (Little and Blair, 2011).
The basic and well-known concept is that under the same
blast load, the bulk displacement is small in the strong rock
and large in the weak rock because it has less resistance to the
load. Furthermore, the strong rock sustains high amplitude,
high frequency vibration waves that have little attenuation.
In distinct contrast, the weak rock, although experiencing
high amplitude waves in the very near feld, rapidly attenuates
the amplitudes with distance (especially the high-frequency
content). These attributes are illustrated in the fgure.
In this regard, it is generally accepted that rock fragmentation
(damage) is fundamentally infuenced by stress wave
propagation from a blasthole and the subsequent interaction
of explosive gasses with the stressed rock (Blair, 2009).
This interaction, which promotes the bulk displacement, can
be signifcant in weak walls and produce high levels of damage.
Paventi et al (1996) identifed six types of blast damage related
to specifc geology features in the rock mass.
Stress relaxation and damage
When the rock mass adjacent to an underground opening
or a slope is excavated, a relaxation of the confning stresses
occurs and the remaining material is allowed to expand
in volume, or to dilate. This has a profound infuence on the
strength of the wall rocks since, in jointed rocks, this strength
is strongly dependent upon the normal stress acting on
potential failure planes. This relaxation related weakening
and the fact that new structures are daylighted can lead
to surface wall failures even with only minor blast damage.
This effect becomes more signifcant if the weakened rock
mass is also damaged by blast.
Blasting emissions
If blasting emissions are unacceptable to the organisation’s
stakeholders then implementation or design changes need
to be made. This review involves six blasting emissions.
They are: airblast, dust, fyrock, fumes, ground vibration,
and water pollution.
One undesirable side effect of blasting operations is the
generation of airblast. Although the air blast seldom causes
structural damage, the sudden noise may startle neighbours
and raise complaints. Airblast is the common term for
pressure waves in air emanating from explosions. Airblast
includes ‘Blast noise’ defned as the high frequency portion
(20 - 20 000 Hz) of the pressure wave in air that is audible.
Airblast also includes ‘Infrasound (or Concussion)’ defned
as the inaudible part of the airblast having a frequency
content below 20 Hz. It should be noted that infrasound
excites structures and in turn causes secondary and audible
rattles within the structure. Of interest here are the three
geology related airblast source mechanisms characterised
in Table 10 and Figure 10.
The propensity for dust emission due to drilling and blasting
at a mine is infuenced by the type and texture of ore and
waste materials mined. Another factor is the inherent and
applied moisture content of these materials. Scott, Michaux
and Onderra (2009) discussed the characterisation of dust
generated from blasting in three mining environments. These
results showed that in a coal measure environment, based
on crushing results, coal is expected to generate the most
fne material (in order of three per cent) followed by siltstone
(next weakest), coarse sandstone and stronger fne sandstone
(in the order of 0.5 per cent). In a porphyry copper environment
the investigators concluded that the weakest porphyry ore
generated the most fne material (in the order of 3.5 per cent)
with stronger ores generating considerably less (in the order
of 0.3 per cent). Similarly, in a base metal environment the
results indicated that the stronger waste and ore will generate
negligible quantities (< 0.3 per cent) of fner dust, whereas the
weaker waste types will generate fnes that persist to the very
small sizes (in the order of 1.5 per cent).
Flyrock is produced by excess gas energy which fnds a way
to escape to the atmosphere. In this regard the explosive
produces a fxed amount of gas energy that performs useful
work (fragmentation and heave) but also produces unwanted
emissions (airblast, dust, fyrock and vibration). The three
main mechanisms of fyrock generation are briefy discussed
with the frst two being directly related to bench geology.
1. Cratering: the stemming column of a blast pattern usually
lies in a weakened layer due to weak zones or subgrade
damage from previous blasts. In this region, blast gases
can propagate through cracks to the horizontal free surface
and cause craters and associated fyrock.
2. Face bursting: this occurs when explosive charges intersect
or are in close proximity to major geological structures or
Air pressure pulse (APP): is caused by the piston-like efect as air is pushed by direct rock displacement at the face
or by mounding at each blasthole. The APP is characteristically low frequency and may give rise to the peak
overpressure in a well controlled blast.

Rock pressure pulse (RPP): is generated by the vertical component of the ground vibration. The vertical vibration
of the ground also acts as a piston, though with far less displacement than that due to face movement or blasthole
mounding. The RPP usually has the least amplitude and is frst to arrive of all the airblast mechanisms. This pulse
travels at the p-wave velocity.

Gas release pulse (GRP): results from blowouts, such as face bursting and cratering, and can be identifed as high
frequency ‘spikes’ superimposed on the air pressure pulse. GRPs are the most undesirable source mechanism
of airblast generation and are also the most difcult to predict and hence control.

Geology-related airblast sources and characteristics (after Little, 1994).
zones of weakness in the face region. The high pressure
can then readily vent to atmosphere and also impart high
velocities to fragmented portions of the face.
3. Rifing: this occurs when stemming material is weak
and/or of insuffcient length. Blast gases can vent up
along the blasthole to launch stemming material and/or
fragments from the collar region.
In real detonations, due to incomplete reaction of the explosive
and subsequent reaction with the surrounding environment,
other reaction products will be produced (Persson, Holmberg
and Lee, 1994). The primary toxic fumes produced are
carbon monoxide (CO), nitrous oxide (NO), and nitric oxide
(NO2). The amount of non-ideal detonation products formed
depends on a number of factors. Geology related factors
include groundwater effects, degree of confnement and the
additional reactions that can also occur between the explosive
and the surrounding rock (eg sulfdes).
Ground vibrations
There are a number of factors that can have a signifcant
infuence the propagation of vibration waves and these can be
grouped under geometric and geologic effects. The geometric
effects are those due to waveform spreading (attenuation)
with distance and the shape of the medium (ie the surface
and walls of an open pit, underground openings and the
general existence of free surfaces). Geologic effects can be
numerous, and include material type (ie soil, rock) variation
within these types, discontinuities, jointing, weathering,
layering and groundwater. For example, soil is generally
more attenuating than rock, discontinuities and jointing
can cause wave refection and mode conversion, weathering
and layering can cause wave channeling and refraction, and
groundwater can signifcantly alter the transmitted wave
types, and produce phenomena such as the water-hammer
effect. Open joints within a material will also infuence the
transmitted vibration because they can act as free surfaces
which will produce refected and mode-converted waves.
In fact, if the geologic variations are suffciently large at any
particular site, then the blast vibration is unpredictable,
irrespective of any blast design aspects such as the use
of electronic delays (Blair, 2009).
Water pollution
A potential geology related mechanism of AN loss to the mine
water involves explosives fowing into discontinuities or voids
in the rock mass. Some of this explosive will be at less than the
critical diameter so it does not detonate reliably. An additional
mechanism relates to fowing water where dissolution of the
explosives in the blasthole prior to detonation can occur. Bulk
emulsions or emulsion/ANFO blends are not waterproof,
but have varying degrees of water resistance. The longer the
explosive is in contact with water, the greater the amount that
may dissolve and enter the ground water.
This paper outlines the many controls that geology exerts
on the drill and blast operations. Once the blasting objective
is established, the geology, inter alia, controls the following:
Drilling operations – geological controls on performance:
• the select of the drill rig and the bit design is done on
the basis of the geology;
• amount of drilling required to fragment a volume of
rock is controlled by the geology;
• penetration rate is controlled by the mineral
composition and micro fabric, eg porosity and quartz;
• the rate is also controlled by elastic/plastic behaviour
and the mechanical rock properties;
• the drilling rate also controlled by the rock mass
conditions and discontinuity networks present;
• bit life depends on the percentage minerals with
a hardness (abrasiveness) greater than that of steel;
• hole stability is controlled by the sensitivity of the wall
rock to the atmosphere, water and/or stress relief;
• deviation is affected by geological structures especially
for long, inclined and small diameter blastholes; and
• presence of hazardous mineral infuences the drilling
practice and health and safety provisions required.
Blast design – geological controls on blast geometry:
• hazardous minerals impose many constraints on the
blast design, eg blast size and explosive products;
• economic leverage for ore mining requires a high
degree of selectivity;
• economic leverage for waste or overburden mining
requires a high degree of productivity;
FIG 10 - Airblast waveform record showing typical RPP, APP and GRP signatures (after Little, 1994).
• deposit geometry and variability controls the range
of applicable blasting methods;
• rock properties (strength, porosity, density) directly
affect burden, spacing and subdrill;
• geological structure networks or ‘in situ block size
distribution’ is the fragmentation starting position;
• remnant index is the ratio of the in situ structure
fracture to the blast fractures in the muck pile; and
• orientation of geological structures relative to free
face can lead to wall, oversize and toe problems.
Blast design – geological controls on explosives:
• explosive type is selected on the basis of the rock mass
characteristics and groundwater regime,
• geology dictates the distribution of charge in space
and time for optimal results,
• rock mass stiffness and geometric design infuences
the explosive performance,
• blasting results indicate that different rocks respond
differently to explosive loading (results), and
• rock response is sensitive to explosive loading rate
(strain rate dependence).
Blast implementation – operational complexity:
• the presence of hazardous minerals can have a
dominant impact on blast implementation.
• the environmental and mining induced processes
active also increase operational complexity;
• lithological variations especially hard zones, weak
zones, foaters and cavities increase complexity; and
• the degree of quality control and monitoring required
to manage environmental emission.
Blasting results – muck pile characteristics:
• rock response to explosives loading in time and space
infuences the geometric features of the muck pile;
• the physical features of the muck pile depend on rock
strength, structure, mineralogy and groundwater;
• the mineralogy, environment and exposure time
control the chemical reactions within the muck pile;
• mechanical features or resistance to loading, depend
on the geometric, physical and chemical features; and
• grade distribution relates to ore geology via the
blasting objective and blast design.
Blasting results – downstream handling and processing:
• fragments strength is important to the performance
of crushing and grinding operations;
• faws where a microcrack can start to grow include;
existing microcracks, gain boundaries and cleavage;
• propagation of micro-cracks is dependent on the
rock’s resistance to deformation and is infuences
by: grain size, grain boundary symmetry, cleavage
stiffness, and texture; and
• weak rocks have a higher propensity to generate fnes
than stronger rocks.
Blasting results – remaining rock damage:
• the nature and extent rock damage relates to the
geology of the rock mass;
• stress relaxation of newly exposed face weakens the
rock mass and is exasperated by blast damage;
• strong rocks sustain high amplitude, high frequency
vibration waves with little attenuation, however they
can sustain high dynamic stresses and then could
failure catastrophically; and
• weak rocks exhibit high attenuation and failure at low
stress levels without the release of much energy.
Blasting results – blasting emissions:
• geology related airblast mechanisms include: rock
pressure pulse, air pressure pulse and gas release
• weak rocks have a higher propensity to generate dust;
• fyrock can be caused by geology related face bursting
and cratering mechanisms;
• fumes generation is infuence by groundwater,
confnement and explosive – rock reactions;
• ground vibration are strongly infuence by the rock
mass geology and hydrogeology; and
• explosives in structures and voids and dissolution
in moving groundwater can lead to AN water pollution.
The author would like to thank Dane Blair for his constructive
comments. TNL Consultants are also acknowledged for
allowing this paper to be both published and presented.
The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (The
AusIMM) are also acknowledged for providing constructive
review and hosting such worthwhile events.
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