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Ideas at Work: New Blasting Practices to Protect Water Quality

Ideas at Work: New Blasting Practices to Protect Water Quality

How a team in the Elk Valley is helping deliver on our commitment to improving water quality in the region. 

As part of our commitment to improving water quality in B.C’.s Elk Valley region, a number of research projects are underway to prevent nitrate from entering the environment.

One source of nitrates is from explosives that interact with water during the blasting process. When this occurs, nitrates can leach out of blastholes and enter the natural environment. To stop this from occurring, plastic liners are used to prevent explosive materials from coming into contact with water.

However, in order to use plastic liners, blastholes have historically needed to be dewatered so that the liner can reach the bottom of the hole and stay there. For blastholes that refill with water, a new approach was required.  

The Project

To tackle this problem, Teck undertook a research project to determine how plastic liners could be used in blastholes that naturally refill with water (often called dynamic blastholes). The research project was led by Teck with support from suppliers Maxam, Teck’s explosives provider, and Friesen Plastics, Teck’s liner supplier. Together, various combinations of procedures, liner types/packaging and explosive bulk truck modifications were trialled until a new system was developed. 

The emulsion in a liner system involves using the charging hose on the explosives truck to place the plastic liner in the bottom of a dynamic blasthole. The hole is then loaded with water-resistant explosive from the bottom up, both filling the liner and keeping it in place. Once complete, the end result is a lined blasthole with the explosives protected from the water. 

In order for the plastic liner to be effectively placed down the blasthole, a hydraulic arm and funnel were added to the explosive bulk truck hose and the traditional borehole plastic liners had to be compressed into an accordion shape. The hydraulic arm allows for the hose to be placed directly over the blasthole and the funnel removes the wrinkles from the compressed plastic liner as it unfolds and is pushed to the bottom of the hole. This ensures consistent lining of every blasthole while meeting our needs of durability and functionality.

A common problem identified during early tests was the plastic liner being pulled back up the blasthole as the hose was withdrawn. To address this, a system was developed that applies mineral oil to the bulk truck hose which acts as a lubricant, allowing the hose to be withdrawn while keeping the plastic liner and blast material in the hole.

This process has now been successfully field-tested on over 400 holes and has proven to be a safe and effective design.

Left to right:  Gonzalo Cornejo, MAXAM; Jeff Hawley, Senior Engineer Supervisor; Dale Caron, Drill and Blast Lead; and David Watson and Nathan Friesen, both of Friesen Plastics.

Going Forward

Today, nearly 1,500 holes are being inserted with a liner each month, and the new process is currently being piloted at Teck’s Fording River and Greenhills operations. The plan is to implement this process across all of Teck’s steelmaking coal operations in 2019. As a result, every blasthole in the Elk Valley that is operationally accessible will contain a liner that protects both the explosive product and the environment. This will significantly reduce nitrate at source and help to protect water quality.

A Culture of Innovation

This innovation was made possible by a team, one which was told repeatedly that what they were trying to accomplish could not be done.

But Jeff Hawley, Senior Engineer Supervisor, Business Improvement, and Dale Caron, Drill and Blast Lead, both with Teck, along with Nathan Friesen of Friesen Plastics and Gonzalo Cornejo of MAXAM, refused to be discouraged and set out to do the impossible.

And through hard work, ingenuity and a culture of innovation, that’s what they did.

“Each and every person who worked on this project was integral to its success,” said Jeff. “Many people thought that our goals were unachievable, but it just goes to show that great things can happen when you get the right team together.”

Achieving the impossible doesn’t happen overnight. This idea was the result of months of testing, prototype development, and of course, teamwork.

“I remember seeing our prototype work for the first time,” said Nathan. “That was a really proud moment for me. We had to go back to the drawing board several times, but everyone supported each other until the product was perfected. Working with Teck was a very special experience.”

Gonzalo applauded the diversity of perspectives and ideas that team brought forward. “When we encountered a problem, we worked on it together. And when we found a solution, we’d all go home proud.”

For Dale, the way that Teck encourages creativity in its people was pivotal. “Teck was very accommodating throughout the whole process,” he said. “In some cases, the site had to take a loss of production so that we could test our product. I’ve been with Teck for 25 years, and it’s great to see the company continue to foster this kind of innovation.”