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BLAST DENSIFICATION OF FINE TAILINGS

Brian W. Wilson, P.Eng., Regional Leader - Western Canada, GAIA Contractors, Burnaby, BC, Canada
John W. Scholte, P.Eng., Contracts Manager, GAIA Contractors, Burnaby, BC, Canada

A case study is presented that describes the design and implementation of a combined blast
densification and deep dynamic compaction program which was undertaken to improve the
foundation soils for a proposed tailings dam raise in Ontario, Canada. Based on the results of
the geotechnical investigation it was determined that the foundation of the dam would be
situated on tailings of both variable thickness and density, much of which would be susceptible
to liquefaction under the design earthquake for the region and type of facility.

Blast densification trials were completed by the owner and the results of these made available
to prospective tenderers in response to a call for a fixed price contract for the design and
implementation of a densification program for approximately 800,000 m3 of foundation tailings.

Keywords: Blast Densification; fine tailings; dam design; geotechnical investigation.

Introduction cost benefit. Plans were therefore developed to


construct a dam raise founded on the existing
To service the demand for additional tailings
storage from the on-going mining activities at the tailings with an alignment some 90 m back from
Inco mine near Sudbury, Ontario, Inco proposed the crest of the existing dam structure.
Geotechnical investigations indicated that
to expand the storage capacity of the Central
Tailings Facility in Copper Cliff, Sudbury, significant foundation improvement works would
through construction of a dam raise. Based on a be necessary to facilitate construction and
provide the required foundation stability
review of the likely demand and the existing site
conditions, Inco elected to raise the eastern necessary to support the dam raise under both
perimeter dams to provide the necessary static and seismic conditions.
storage capacity.
Site Characteristics
Golder Associates Ltd. (Golder) completed a The site is located on the existing Inco mining
review of the existing perimeter dams and property at Copper Cliff, Sudbury, Ontario. A
concluded that the eastern perimeter dams, review of historical data, existing aerial
specifically the Guindon Dam and the R1-CD photographs and plans, as well as the results of
Dam, could most economically be raised using subsurface investigations indicated that the
upstream construction methods. This approach, existing tailings dams were typically built on
which utilizes spigotted tailings as part of the discontinuous bedrock ridges to minimize the
process, is typically carried out as part of volume of material required in the dam shell,
operations and incorporates the least volume of and maximize the storage volume. Dams
both imported fill and tailings, hence the overall typically spanned between highpoints in the

Figure 1: Typical Dam Cross Section


rock, these forming the abutments of at least the A limited amount of overburden (typically less
starter dams. Figure 1 shows a typical cross than 2 m) was found to be present over the rock,
section of the proposed dam-raise construction. primarily in low lying areas previously occupied
Historical as-built information indicated that the by swamp or lakes. The overburden soils were
existing dams had been constructed using typically lacustrine clays.
tailings and some imported materials to form the
main shell, with upstream spigotting to provide The thickness of the tailings deposit varied
the bulk of the dam mass. Since with spigotting significantly, reflecting the undulating nature of
there is a trend of decreasing tailings grain size the original topography. Tailings up to 21 m
with distance from the existing crests, the thick were identified within the limit of the
selection of the proposed dam footprint would Guindon Dam. Areas of substantial tailings
significantly influence the extent and nature of included the southern portion of Guindon Dam
any necessary foundation treatment. South and much of the Guindon Dam North.
The tailings depth along the R1-CD Dam was
It is more desirable, from a foundation stability noted to be significantly smaller, typically
perspective, to found any proposed dam raise ranging from 3 to 9 m.
on coarse sandy tailings rather than on fines,
and therefore have it positioned closer to the Tailings Gradation: Based on the laboratory test
existing crest. Based on the conditions data, the deposited tailings were noted to be
encountered at this site, the stability of the heterogeneous and consisted of alternating
existing dam, and taking into account ease of layers of fine sand, silt and silty sand. The
foundation treatment and starter structure gradation of the in situ tailings were also inferred
construction, the toe line of the new dam was from the CPT data using the Robertson
set at approximately 90 m east of the existing Classification Charts (Robertson, 1990) and the
dam crests. This alignment was chosen to method proposed by Jefferies and Davis (1993)
minimize fill placement prior to the resumption of which utilizes a soil classification index (IC)
spigotting and to take advantage, as far as was based on the measured tip resistance,
practical, of the fact that the thickness of the porewater ratio and friction ratio.
tailings was generally less and the subsurface
conditions were more favorable closer to the Consistency and Relative Density: A cone tip
existing dam crest. resistance of 5 to 10 MPa was typical of the
saturated tailings at depth. Measured cone
Geotechnical investigation of the proposed dam friction was generally less than 1 percent of the
footprint included the completion of 16 tip resistance indicating the tailings to be sandy.
boreholes, 55 Cone Penetration Tests (CPT’s),
and 5 dynamic cone penetration tests, along the The deposited tailings were in a very loose to
3,050 m of the proposed dam footprint. In compact state of packing below the water table.
addition, geophysical investigations On average, the N1(60) values estimated from
incorporating seismic refraction surveys and CPT data range from 5 to 12, with localized
cross-hole shear wave velocity tests were pockets of very loose tailings (N1(60) around 3).
completed to provide an indication of the The N1(60) values were calculated from cone tip
variability in depth to rock between borings or resistance and corrected for grain size effect
CPT’s. and overburden pressure (Jefferies and Davis,
1993).
Subsurface Conditions: Bedrock outcrops were
exposed at the abutments of the Guindon Dam The saturated tailings at depth typically had a
and the R1-CD Dam. A shallow bedrock ridge relative density (Dr) of between 40 and
was also noted between Guindon Dam South 60 percent. Significantly higher values were
and Guindon Dam North. For the purpose of measured within the oxidized tailings near the
estimating the bedrock topography, the CPT ground surface.
refusal depths were inferred to be the top of
bedrock. Bedrock encountered during the Miscellaneous Properties: The natural water
investigation was a medium grained granite. content of the tailings above the water table
ranged from 7% to 27% (average 18%) and from
21% to 42% (average 28%) below the water
table. At a measured specific gravity of about 3
for the tailings, the calculated void ratios ranged
from about 0.6 to 1.3 (average 0.85)
corresponding to a dry unit weight of 1840 to
1360 kg/m3. Generally, the silt tailings were
found to have a higher water content, hence a
higher void ratio. The tailings are non-plastic.

Drainage: Despite the high silt content at some


test locations, the tailings were found to be
relatively permeable with a calculated hydraulic
conductivity ranging from 3.6 to 4.8 x 10-4
cm/sec. The relatively high permeability of the
tailings was supported by the CPT results, which
showed little or no excess porewater pressure at
most of the locations tested, however isolated
seams of low permeability tailings (silts) were
inferred. These seams were generally
discontinuous with a thickness of 2 m or less.
The hydraulic conductivity of the tailings was
expected to be variable throughout the site. Figure 2: Interpreted Foundation Conditions Plan
Shear Wave Velocity: Measurements made at Located at the lower portion of Guindon Dam
five boreholes indicated that within the South, Zone 1 was characterized by relatively
saturated, un-weathered tailings the measured deep silt to some sand tailings deposit, with the
shear wave velocities were typically between groundwater table near surface. Characteristic
100 and 120 m/sec with a calculated Poisson profile – 20 m of tailings (N1(60) values ranging
ratio of about 0.5. These values are consistent from 5 to 12) over 1 m. of clayey silt over
with data reported for loose soils that may be bedrock.
susceptible to liquefaction (NCEER, 1996).
Tailings within Zone 2 were typically a sand with
Weathered Crust: The test results indicated that some silt to silty sand extending to a depth of
there was a 1 to 4 m thick weathered crust on between 6 and 12 m below ground surface.
the existing tailings. Within this zone, the Phreatic surface within the tailings was located
tailings were generally compact to dense in at a depth of between 1.5 and 4.5 m.
consistency due to cementation effects as a Characteristic profile – 12 m of tailings (N1(60)
result of oxidation of tailings. Weathering occurs values ranging from 5 to 12) over 0.6 m. of
above the phreatic surface in the tailings. clayey silt over bedrock.
Groundwater: The location of the groundwater
Zone 3 encompasses Guindon Dam North.
table was determined from field observations
While the depth of tailings within this zone is
and an interpretation of the CPT data. Generally
comparable to Zone 1, the tailings in Zone 3
the water table was located at depths ranging
were found to be generally coarser. The depth
from 0.3 m to over 6 m within the tailings, with
to groundwater table was also significantly
the greater depths observed along the existing
greater due to a higher existing crest elevation.
dam crests. Shallow groundwater was prevalent
Characteristic profile – two soil columns; 21 m of
in the low lying areas further from the existing
tailings (N1(60) values ranging from 7 to 28) over
dam alignment. Generally, the groundwater
1.5 m of clayey silt over bedrock, and 14 m of
table reflects the surface topography increasing
tailings (similar consistency) over 1 m of clayey
in elevation from south to north.
silt over bedrock.
Foundation Conditions: Based on the results of
the geotechnical investigations, the project area Zone 4 encompasses the R1-CD Dam and is
was partitioned into four zones each having characterized by relatively shallow deposits of
varied geotechnical characteristics for seismic sandy tailings and a shallow groundwater table.
stability assessment and dam raise design Characteristic profile – 10 m. of tailings (N1(60)
(Figure 2). values ranging from 5 to 18) over bedrock.
Design Considerations Blast Densification, or Explosive Compaction, as
it is sometimes referred to, is a less common
Due to the implications of failure of the proposed
technique, but one that has been in use around
tailings dam, the structure was deemed to be
the world for about 80 years. Blast Densification
critical and required that design account for the
involves placing a series of charges in the soil at
Maximum Credible Earthquake (MCE) for this
depth and detonating the charges with pre-
region. Using a probabilistic approach, the MCE
determined delays to induce cyclic loading of the
is expected to have an annual probability of
soil. Mechanisms that cause densification due
exceedance of 1/10,000 or less. The selection
to blasting within cohesionless soils include
of the MCE was based on the Canadian Dam
compression, volumetric strain and shearing. In
Safety Guidelines (CDA 1999) and the Draft
addition, excess porewater pressures are
Ontario Dam Safety Guidelines (MNR 1999) for
generated during blasting which may induce
facilities that may pose significant environmental
liquefaction and rearrangement of the particles
and economical risks. Design of the dam raise
into a denser state. The method is most suitable
was therefore completed assuming a Magnitude
for saturated free draining sand but has also
6.5 earthquake occurring 20 km from the site
been demonstrated as effective for silty sand. In
and yielding a peak bedrock acceleration of
lower permeability soils, the improvement is
0.6 g.
more time dependent making verification of field
performance more difficult.
Utilizing these parameters, analysis of the
liquefaction potential of the tailings which form
The state-of-the-practice for blast densification
the foundation of the dam indicated that the
methodology has been developed largely on
tailings would liquefy during the design
natural soils – typically sands and silts. In
earthquake, potentially leading to catastrophic
contrast to alluvial sediments which are
failure of the dam. As a consequence it was
rounded, mine tailings are angular and have a
concluded that the tailings deposits beneath the
higher angle of internal friction for the same
foundation should be densified to prevent
state of packing. This characteristic suggests
liquefaction.
that while the typical design approach is valid
there may be variations in response with tailings.
Densification Design: A number of densification
options were considered for the site. Given the
There are few case histories involving the large
thickness of the tailings, the performance
scale improvement of mine tailings, particularly
requirements and the extent of the proposed
those which contain relatively high fines content.
works it was concluded that blast densification
Soils that have a high fines content are typically
and dynamic compaction provided the most
more difficult to improve because poor drainage
economical options. Blast densification was
inhibits the rearranging of the soil particles into a
considered the most appropriate solution for the
higher state of packing. The variability of the
deeper deposits, with Dynamic Compaction
deposited tailings over shorter distances is also
generally reserved for the more shallow Zone 4,
a significant factor. Not only are the overall
where the depth to the base of the liquefiable
drainage characteristics of the tailings controlled
layer was less than 10.6 m.
by the gradation and relative density of the
tailings, they are also affected by the bedding
Dynamic compaction is one of the simplest and
structure that exists in the tailings. The
most cost-effective ground densification
stratification of silts and sands generally
techniques and involves repeated drops of a
suggests that there is a higher horizontal
heavy weight (tamper) from a crane. Its
hydraulic conductivity than vertical hydraulic
effectiveness in terms of liquefaction mitigation
conductivity.
is typically limited to the upper 9 m to 10.5 m of
the profile for conventional operations, although
The largest tailings densification project
improvement can occur to greater depth.
completed prior to this site is believed to have
been undertaken at Syncrude’s tailings facility
near Fort McMurray, Alberta, where some
1.3 million m3 of tailings were improved using
the blast densification technique.
Figure 3: CPT Results for Test Plot 1 (Before & After Densification)

In order to establish the suitability of blast One month after completion of ground
densification to this particular site Golder treatment, the reported settlements for Test
recommended completion of a blast Area 1 were in the range of 75 cm to 120 cm
densification trial prior to tendering the work. (average 100 cm) within the plan area of the
test. It was reported that the measured
Blast Densification Trial settlements increased with the number of blast
passes and it appeared that more than 60% of
In preparation for a tender call to carry out the
the measured surface settlement occurred at
required densification works Inco retained an
depths greater than 6 m to 7 m below the settled
independent contractor to undertake a trial at the
ground surface.
site in late 2002. Two trial areas were
completed: Test Area 1, which was about 30 m x
The reported settlements for Test Area 2 were in
30 m in plan with a target compaction depth of
the range of 180 cm to 250 cm within the plan
12 m, located in soil Zone 1 where the
area of the test. It was reported that these
underlying tailings were generally silty sand; and
settlements were concentrated in the lowest
Test Area 2, about 15 m x 15 m in plan, but with
20 m of the site, which gives an induced vertical
a deeper (20 m) treatment zone, located in soil
strain of about 10%.
Zone 3 where the tailings were generally sandy.
Achieved Penetration Resistances: Post
Although details of the individual charge
compaction penetration resistances were
weights, vertical spacing and charging sequence
measured using the CPT, one and two months
or delays were not made public, it is understood
after the end of ground treatment at Sites 1 and
that the trials incorporated two separate blasts
2, respectively. Figures 3 and 4 show the
(primary and secondary) at each location. The
measured resistances in terms of qt at Test
following general observations were reported
Area 1 and Test Area 2 respectively, before and
while viewing individual blasts during the field
after blasting.
trials:

Figure 4: CPT Results for Test Plot 2 (Before & After Densification)
In the case of Test Area 1, the resistance in the fact that large penetration resistances could be
upper 3 m of the site (above the water table) are obtained following blasting was acknowledged
unchanged or slightly reduced, consistent with as an indication that explosive compaction could
the zone being disturbed by the explosives but work, at least in principle, within the tailings of
seeing no compaction effect because it was Test Area 2.
unsaturated. As indicated previously blast
densification requires the soils to be saturated to Tender Call
generate localized liquefaction.
A call for tender to densify the site was issued
by Inco in January 2004. The tender called for
The upper loose layer, between Elev. 305 m and
lump sum bids to densify some 800, 000 m3 of
301 m experienced, on average, a doubling of
tailings along some 3,050 m of alignment over a
the penetration resistance (qt). The deeper
width of approximately 30.5 m. The tender
loose soil, which is particularly evident between
documents indicated that a solution
Elev. 299 m and Elev. 293 m experienced, again
incorporating blast densification and dynamic
on average, about a 70% increase in penetration
compaction was required and that the risk
resistance.
associated with meeting the liquefaction criteria
rested solely with the contractor. Copies of the
Average increases do not reveal the increase in
geotechnical site investigations as well as the
variability of the penetration resistance. After
results of the blast densification trials (minus the
the explosive compaction, resistances were
details of charge density, spacing and
more variable than before, with the standard
sequencing) were provided with the tender
deviation more than doubling. The net effect is
documents.
that although the average penetration resistance
had increased markedly by the compaction, the
Recognizing the variability in the composition of
looser zones after compaction had experienced
the tailings and the fact that few densification
a smaller increase (about 30%, rather than 70 –
processes are capable of guaranteeing
100%). Only one case of apparent loosening
elimination of liquefaction, specifications were
was evident at this site.
included such that ground improvement would
be deemed acceptable if, at each test location,
In the case of Test Area 2, more variable results
85 percent of the measured CPT tip resistance
of the compaction were obtained. Comparing
(qt), at 21 days after ground improvement,
the before and after penetration resistances it is
exceeded the design criteria indicated on
apparent that the average penetration resistance
Figure 5. Further, the thickness of any zone
were essentially unchanged, but the variability
where the specified tip resistance was not met
was substantially increased by the compaction.
should not exceed 1 m. In the event that this
The low resistances after compaction were
criterion was not met within a specific zone, the
lower than before (perhaps half), while the
contractor would be responsible for the
higher resistances were doubled.
completion of additional densification, using
whatever means appropriate, to treat such
Assessment of Compaction Adequacy: In the
zones until the specification was met.
case of Test Area 1, a review of the test data
concluded that the compaction target was met.
Although there were zones where the CPT data
were less than the target, these zones appeared
localized and in volumetric terms represented
less than 10% of the site volume. The CPT
resistances were also expected to increase with
time due to ageing effects.

In the case of Test Area 2, the review of the post


blast CPT data concluded that in general the
design target had not been met. Although there
were many layers that exceeded the target
resistance profile, there were also many layers
that fell well short. It is postulated that the
charges used were too large. Despite this, the Figure 5: CPT Plot Showing Design Criteria
Photograph 1: Test Plot 1 (Immediately After a Blast Sequence)
Design and Construction 2004 and comprised of eight (8) separate test
blasts. Various charge weight schemes and
Following award of the project, GAIA
hole patterns were tested during the eight trial
Contractors, the wholly owned specialized
blasts. Results of the trial sections indicated
contracting subsidiary of Golder’s Canadian
that the production blast pattern would be an
company, commenced with detailed design and
overlapping, 7 m grid, completed in two stages
planning of the densification process. The
and that charge weights would increase with the
Guindon and R1-CD alignments were divided
depth of blast hole.
into panels or sections of chainage to provide
better control of scheduling as well as quality
Given the variability in the gradation of the
control testing. Areas to be blasted were divided
tailings both along the alignment and with depth,
into panels 36 m wide and (initially) up to 36 m
rapid response vibrating wire piezometers (out-
long. A 36 m wide treatment section was
fitted with over-blast protection) were installed
chosen to ensure adequate overlap of the
both inside and outside of the test zones. Of
treatment on the prescribed 30.5 m wide
particular interest was the measurement of the
densification zone.
pore pressures generated immediately following
a blast and the time required for dissipation of
Since the information provided with the tender
those pore pressures. The variation in these
on the initial test blasts did not include details of
values between the generalized silty test zone
the charges used, it was necessary that GAIA
and the sandier test zone were also of
complete additional testing to verify that the
significance. Long term monitoring of the pore
blasting pattern and charge densities carried in
pressures following a blast provided some
our tender were indeed appropriate for the site
insight into the rate of consolidation and
and could accommodate the variability in
provided additional guidance on the timing of
geotechnical conditions.
secondary blasts.
A preliminary work plan was developed to allow
Deep settlement gauges were also installed
an assessment of the applicability of the blast as
during the test program with the intention of
follows:
being able to differentiate the magnitude of
consolidation within discrete zones
Completion of a preconstruction topographical
corresponding to the gradation of the tailings.
survey and additional cone penetration tests;
The use of the gauges proved to be unreliable or
Completion of forty (40) additional CPT’s along
difficult to interpret and they were often
the alignment at a spacing of approximately
damaged either through buckling of the column
46 m on alternating sides of the treatment area;
as a result of rapid settlement, or the destruction
Installation of instrumentation; and completion of
of the entire gauge due to proximity to the blast
additional blast densification test sections to
locations. Total settlement was generally
optimize the charge pattern and density - one in
measured through the use a topographic
the northern portion of Guindon where the
elevation survey following densification
tailings were reported to be sandier, and a
treatments.
second test section in the southern portion of
Guindon where the tailings were reported to be
Encountered Site Conditions: Based on the
siltier.
information obtained from the additional CPT
work, as well as the results from the test blasting
Test Sections: As an outcome of our review of
sections, several discrepancies were noted with
the additional CPT testing it was decided that
respect to the original site conditions as defined
tests be completed in three separate areas prior
in the bid documents. The most significant
to the start of production densification. The test
differences were as follows:
section work was completed in May and June of
The groundwater table was encountered some The selection of where to apply each technique
4.5 to 6 m below ground surface, approximately was based on the thickness of the overburden
3 m deeper than anticipated based on reports material above bedrock. Blast Densification and
supplied by Inco. This resulted in a thicker and Rapid Impact Compaction (RIC) were applied to
stronger surficial crust across almost the entire the 54 panels (typically 36 m x 36 m in the
alignment and necessitated pre-augering for the proposed Guindon Dam Alignment) with
blast-hole casing installations which originally Dynamic Compaction applied along the
were planned to use a direct push method of proposed R1-CD Dam alignment.
installation with PVC casing housed in an outer
steel pipe that could be withdrawn once the Rapid Impact Compaction: RIC is an in-situ
target depth was reached. densification method that makes use of a
specialized hydraulic drop hammer mounted on
Variations in the bedrock profile were also noted an excavator. The hammer lifts a 7 tonne
to be significantly greater than could reasonably weight to a controlled height of 1.2 m and drops
have been expected based on the cross the weight onto a patented steel foot. The
sections and geophysical data provided in the hammer rapidly drops the weight at one location,
bid documents. As a result of these variations, at a typical rate of 40 to 60 blows per minute,
two sections within the R1-CD alignment had to while the foot maintains contact with the ground
be densified using blast densification instead of throughout the process. The energy delivered
DC, and significant additional investigation (in by the weight compacts soil to depths varying
excess of 100 rock probes) was required in from 2 m to 6 m or more depending on the grain
advance of blasting so that casings could be size, layering and initial relative density. The
installed to the correct depths to ensure that the process is repeated on a grid pattern, leaving
bottom charge was located 3 m above bedrock. craters of approximately 0.3 m to 1 m depth,
The extent of silty zones within the tailings was which are backfilled and compacted.
also significantly more widespread than had
originally been anticipated, with no clear north- RIC proved reasonably effective when
south demarcation of sandy versus silty zones completed in conjunction with blast densification
as had been inferred at tender stage. There to densify the upper 5 to 6 m and in panels
was also a high degree of variability in the where rock was less than 6 m below ground
vertical plane. surface, with best results achieved when the
work was completed within a few days of
Production Densification: At the time of tender it blasting of a specific panel.
was anticipated that site densification would
actually incorporate a combination of three Dynamic Compaction: DC was primarily used in
methods: Blast densification, dynamic areas where the tailings were inferred to be less
compaction, and rapid impact compaction. Due than 12 m thick; however, in some
to the variation in thickness of the potentially circumstances, DC was also used in conjunction
liquefiable zone, it was anticipated that dynamic with Blast Densification to achieve a more
compaction would be adequate to address all of uniform densified profile. DC was carried out
the concerns along the section of the R1-CD typically on a 10 m overlapping grid pattern over
Dam and perhaps a small portion near the 30 m x 30 m panels and completed in three to
abutments of the Guindon Dam. Blast four phases. Pneumatic piezometers were
densification would then be required everywhere installed to ensure the stabilization of pore
else. One issue with blast densification is that pressure between phases. DC was applied to
the method relies on the soils being fully 41 panels (partially or wholly) in Guindon Dam
saturated, hence there is no beneficial impacts and along all of the R1-CD Dam Alignment,
above the water table. To the contrary, often, either as the only method of compaction or in
the near-surface soils are actually loosened by conjunction with blast densification.
the effects of blasting. The deployment of rapid
impact equipment was therefore aimed at Blast Densification: Blast Densification was used
addressing this issue and providing the in areas where the tailings thickness was
necessary compactive effort to meet the inferred to be greater than 12 m. In preparation
specification in the near surface soils. for blasting, six-inch PVC schedule 20 pipe was
installed through the overburden to within 3 m of
assumed bedrock using a combination of
pre augering and a modified wick-drain of 500 to 750 milliseconds. Typical primary
installation rig. The explosive charges were blasts involved the detonation of 150 to 210
loaded into the PVC pipes at set deck depths. charges in sequence per panel. The largest
Blast densification was completed in two stages blast completed at the site involved blasting
using a 7 m grid, overlapping pattern as across 4 panels at one time and involved close
indicated by the original test blasting. A to 900 individual charges set off in a sequence
minimum period of 3 days delay was observed that lasted almost 7 seconds. The total quantity
between completion of subsequent blasts on an of explosives used on the project was in the
individual panel. order of 29, 500 kg.

The number of decks utilized in a particular blast Following each blast, a significant flow of water
sequence was a function of the total depth of and fine tailings was observed. Flow would
tailings to be treated. For ease of typically commence within a couple of minutes
implementation standard charge weights (based of the blast, building in volume to reach peak
on 2 kg increments of 0.3 m long premeasured flow conditions about 15 minutes after the blast,
cylindrical batches of explosives, called chubbs) and continuing to run for about one hour.
were selected for each depth interval and placed Settlement of the surface was noticeable within
at a consistent depth across each panel. This 1 to 2 hours of the blast and continued for some
allowed the use of standard sized chubbs and time.
consistent volumes of prebatched stemming
between charges such that both the explosives Once suitable surface conditions were
and the stemming could be carefully controlled. established in a panel following the blasting, RIC
Only the volume of stemming at the base of the and/or DC were carried out to ensure
blast hole varied. Individual charge weights densification of the tailings above the water
varied from about 4 kg in the deck closest to table.
surface to as much as 16 kg in decks placed at
the base of the deepest treatment sections Site Restoration: The densification work typically
produced between 0.6 m and 3 m of surficial
Primary and secondary blasts were completed settlement, with the maximum observed
for each panel with individual charge weights of settlement being in the order of 2.4 m.
a similar magnitude to those used in the primary Following completion of the densification, the
blast. The detonation sequence used for both stockpiled rock fill that had been placed by Inco
passes was typically a bottom up situation with along the edges of the alignment was graded
delays between charges in a specific row of 20 into place to re-establish pre-existing drainage
milliseconds or less, with 100 milliseconds patterns and to the elevations agreed.
between columns, and the delay between
individual decks of charges typically in the order Verification CPT Testing: Throughout the
densification work, CPT testing was conducted
to assess the effectiveness of the densification
effort and to confirm that the tailings were
densified sufficiently to meet the contract
specification. The testing was carried out on a
panel-by-panel basis, with the number of
confirmatory CPT’s per panel varied depending
on the method of densification used.

Due to the period required for pore pressure


dissipation, the fact that densification works
were often still in progress relatively close to a
completed panel, and the complication of ageing
effects in recently densified soils, the optimal
period for verification testing was often several
weeks after completion of the program at a
specific panel. In the early days of the contract
Photograph 2: Groundwater Expelled from
multiple tests were completed on panels to
Boreholes After Blasting
monitor this effect and develop site-specific
guidelines as to when to test. The period of time blast densification program can be designed to
within which panels were ready to be tested was meet the requirements of the densification
found to vary depending on the fines content program. This paper presented a case study
and the densification method adopted at that that described the design and construction
location. Blast panels required longer “set-up” challenges faced and the final strategy and
time (often 6 to 16 weeks) prior to testing as implementation program adopted for the
compared to DC panels (1 to 3 weeks). successful densification of tailings prior to
construction of a dam raise.
Typically the verification testing showed that the
specification was generally met at depth, with References
most of the lower CPT tip resistances noted in
DESHPANDE, K, 2009. A cone penetration test
the upper 6 to 9 m. These areas of lower
(cpt) based assessment of explosive compaction
resistances were dealt with either by allowing
in mine tailings.
additional time for pore pressure dissipation
before testing again or by relying on the
DESHPANDE, K, HOWIE, J and WILSON B,
additional energy provided from blasting in
2010. CPT interpretation for assessment of
adjacent panels or by conducting a limited
explosive compaction in highly variable mine
dynamic compaction program. The choice of
tailings.
supplemental energy depended on the pore
pressures as measured through CPT dissipation
GOHL, W.B., JEFFERIES, M.G., HOWIE, J.A.
tests or the installed piezometers. The limited
and DIGGLE, D., 2000. Explosive compaction:
DC program proved very effective, particularly
design, implementation and effectiveness.
when the pore pressures were still elevated
Geotechnique, vol. 50, No. 6, pp. 657-665.
whereas relying on adjacent blast sequences
was generally more effective when pore
GOLDER ASSOCIATES LTD., 2002. Raising of
pressures had decreased already. In total,
r tailings area eastern perimeter dams, copper
approximately 170 CPT’s were completed in
cliff, ontario, volume I factual report on
Guindon and 50 CPT’s in R1-CD to prove
geotechnical and geophysical investigation.
compliance with the Contract terms.
GOLDER ASSOCIATES LTD., 2002. “Raising
Results: The results of all post densification
of r tailings area eastern perimeter dams, copper
testing were submitted to a third party reviewer
cliff, ontario, volume 2 dam raising options
and the entire works accepted without the
evaluation and preliminary Design.
requirement for any remedial works.
Construction of the dam raise commenced in
NCEER, 1996. Workshop on evaluation of
2006.
liquefaction resistance of soils. Proceedings of
Liquefaction Resistance of Soils.
CPT Interpretation: Following completion of the
project Golder and GAIA jointly sponsored
ROBERTSON, P. K., 1990. Soil classification
additional research at the University of British
using the cone penetration test. Canadian
Columbia focusing on the interpretation of CPT
Geotechnical Journal, vol. 27, No. 1, pp.
data in tailings and in particular the assessment
151 158.
of the effects of blast densification. Details of
this work are presented in the thesis submitted
by Deshpande (2009) and summarized in the
paper by Deshpande, Howie and Wilson (2010).

Closure
The use of blast densification as a ground
improvement technique for tailings requires a
detailed understanding of the depositional
nature of the tailings and the groundwater
conditions that exist in addition to the
fundamentals of the blast design. Through the
use of CPT investigation and interpretation a