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Methods of Mining

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According to the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals, 131.8 million tons of coal
was mined in Kentucky in 2000; 62 percent (81 million tons) was from underground
mines and 38 percent (50 million tons) was from surface mines. There were 264 active
underground mines and 240 active surface mines in Kentucky in 2000.

Underground Mining
Underground modes of access include drift, slope, and shaft mining, and actual mining
methods include longwall and room and pillar mining. Drift mines enter horizontally into
the side of a hill and mine the coal within the hill. Slope mines usually begin in a valley
bottom, and a tunnel slopes down to the coal to be mined. Shaft mines are the deepest
mines; a vertical shaft with an elevator is made from the surface down to the coal. In
western Kentucky, one shaft mine reaches 1,200 feet below the surface.
In room and pillar mining, the most common type of underground coal mining, coal
seams are mined by a "continuous miner" that cuts a network of "rooms" into the seam.
As the rooms are cut, the continuous miner simultaneously loads the coal onto a shuttle

or ram car where it will eventually be placed on a conveyor belt that will move it to the
surface. "Pillars" composed of coal are left behind to support the roof of the mine. Each
"room" alternates with a "pillar" of greater width for support. Using this mining method
normally results in a reduction in recovery of as much as 60 percent because of coal
being left in the ground as pillars. As mining continues, roof bolts are placed in the
ceiling to avoid ceiling collapse. Under special circumstances, pillars may sometimes be
removed or "pulled" toward the end of mining in a process called "retreat mining."
Removing support during retreat mining can lead to roof falls, so the pillars are removed
in the opposite direction from which the mine advanced: hence the term "retreat
mining."
Longwall mining is another type of underground mining. Mechanized shearers are used
to cut and remove the coal at the face of the mine. After the coal is removed, it drops
onto a chain conveyor, which moves it to a second conveyor that will ultimately take the
coal to the surface. Temporary hydraulic-powered roof supports hold up the roof as the
extraction process proceeds. This method of mining has proven to be more efficient
than room and pillar mining, with a recovery rate of nearly 75 percent, but the
equipment is more expensive than conventional room and pillar equipment, and cannot
be used in all geological circumstances. As mining continues, roof bolts are placed in
the ceiling to avoid ceiling collapse. In longwall mining, only the main tunnels are bolted.
Most of the longwall panel is allowed to collapse behind the shields (which hold the roof
as coal is excavated).

What are the main methods of mining?

There are four main mining methods: underground, open surface (pit), placer, and in-situ mining.

Underground mines are more expensive and are often used to reach deeper deposits.

Surface mines are typically used for more shallow and less valuable deposits.

Placer mining is used to sift out valuable metals from sediments in river channels, beach
sands, or other environments.

In-situ mining, which is primarily used in mining uranium, involves dissolving the mineral
resource in place then processing it at the surface without moving rock from the ground.
The method used depends on the type of mineral resource that is mined, its location at or beneath
the surface, and whether the resource is worth enough money to justify extracting it. Each mining
method also has varying degrees of impact on the surrounding landscape and environment.

Learn More

Metal Mining and the Environment (Booklet), American Geosciences Institute


Provides basic information about the mining cycle, from exploration for economic mineral deposits to

mine closure. The booklet discusses the environmental aspects of metal mining and illustrates the
ways science and technology assist in preventing or reducing environmental impacts

Digging it! (Factsheet), Bureau of Land Management


Descriptions and illustrations of various mining methods

Mining methods
Mining techniques have dramatically transformed over many years, with technological advances improving efficiency
and the safety and health of our people, while minimising the environmental impact of our operations. NSW has
both open-cut and underground mines.

Open-cut mining
Open-cut mining usually happens where mineral deposits are close to the surface. It involves blasting and removing
surface layers of soil and rock to reach the mineral deposit. When the mineral seam becomes exposed, it is drilled,
fractured and the mineral recovered for processing. Open-cut mining can be more effective than underground
methods, generally recovering 90% of a mineral deposit, and accounts for about 65% of raw coal production in
NSW. Open-cut mining is also used for some gold and copper production in NSW. One of Australias largest open-cut
coal mines, BHP Billitons Mt Arthur Coal mine, is located in the Hunter Valley.

Underground mining
Underground mining involves creating tunnels from the surface into the mineral seam, which can be hundreds of
metres below the surface. These tunnels are used to transport machinery that extracts the mineral. Underground
mining accounts for 60% of world coal production, but is less common in NSW, making up around 35% of raw coal
production. This method is also used to mine metallic minerals like gold and copper. The two main types of
underground mining in NSW are bord-and-pillar and longwall mining.

Bord-and-pillar: Bord-and-pillar, or room-and-pillar, is the oldest underground mining technique and was
common in NSW before longwall mining began in the 1960s. This method uses a grid of tunnels and involves
progressively cutting panels into the coal seam whilst leaving behind pillars of coal to support the mine. This method
has been in steady decline as more efficient technologies are introduced, but is still used in a small number of mines
across the state, like Yancoals Tasman Mine near Newcastle.

Longwall mining: Longwall mining revolutionised underground coal mining with its capacity for safe, cost
effective and efficient large-scale extraction. Longwall mining uses mechanical shearers to cut coal away whilst
hydraulic-powered supports hold up the roof of the mine. As coal is removed, the supports are moved forward and the
roof is collapsed behind them, which can result in subsidence. Longwall mining is more efficient than bord-and-pillar
as it does not leave behind pillars of coal, so more of the mineral resource can be extracted. One example of a
longwall mine is Centennial Coals Angus Place mine, near Lithgow.
A newer technique is block-caving, where mineral ores like gold and copper - are extracted by collapsing the
mineral deposits under their own weight. Australias first block cave mine opened in 1997 near Parkes, in Central
West NSW. Located at Northparkes Mines, it is part of Rio Tintos Mine of the Future program, which aims to make
mining more efficient and safer through increased automation and remote operation.

Coal preparation & minerals processing


Coal direct from a mine has impurities like rocks and dirt that are removed through washing and treatment at a coal
preparation plant. Coal preparation makes the resource more profitable by improving its quality and also lowers
transport costs by reducing waste products.
Coal preparation also minimises the impact on air quality during transportation of coal to power stations or our export
ports in Newcastle and Wollongong.
Minerals processing encompasses a range of activities including exploration, mining and manufacturing of resources.
NSW leads Australia in minerals processing, with substantial infrastructure in steel, aluminium and cement
production, as well as refractories used to produce a range of materials like linings for furnaces, kilns and
incinerators.