A new method to characterise black Shales in Pilbara Iron Mining Operations

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


Electron Science Research Institute (ESRI)




Bennett, J. W., Askraba, S., & Mackenzie, P. (2005). A new method to characterise black Shales in Pilbara Iron Mining Operations.


Pyritic black shales present several challenges to mining operations due to their reactivity. The risk of predetonation of explosives in blastholes, spontaneous combustion of fractured rock and the generation of acid rock drainage must be managed for safety, operational and environmental reasons. At the Mt Tom Price iron ore mine there is a need to differentiate between reactive and non-reactive shale in order to assess risk and make decisions on materials handling. The current approach uses a combination of stratigraphic information and sulfur analysis of blasthole samples. The time taken for sulfur analyses can be a constraining factor on mine production. A new instrument developed by ANSTO Minerals overcomes some of the current limitations on material characterisation. The IOR Meter™ measures the intrinsic oxidation rate (IOR) of samples of broken rock by circulating air through a sample and monitoring the oxygen concentration over time. The intrinsic oxidation rate is given by the rate at which oxygen is consumed per unit mass of sample, in units of kg(oxygen) kg-1(sample) s-1. Up to eight samples can be measured simultaneously and the turn-around time can be less than 12 hours. Initial trials of the IOR Meter™ were undertaken at the Mt Tom Price mine in July 2004. The measured IOR of samples from a blasthole pattern spanning different geological layers containing black shale, correlated strongly with the expected reactivity of those layers. The correlation between position in the geological sequence (detailed stratigraphy) and IOR Meter™ results were much stronger than that between stratigraphy and sulfur content. The new characterisation technique offers the prospect of improving the ability to identify and predict the behaviour of reactive black shales and to differentiate more precisely between different materials. Mine planning, operations, safety and environment all stand to benefit from the success of further trials of the technique.

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