When coal seams are near the surface, it may be economical to extract the coal using open cut (also referred to as open cast, open pit, or strip) mining methods. Open cast coal mining recovers a greater proportion of the coal deposit than underground methods, as more of the coal seams in the strata may be exploited. Large Open Cast mines can cover an area of many square kilometers and use very large pieces of equipment. This equipment can include the following: Draglines which operate by removing the overburden, power shovels, large trucks in which transport overburden and coal, bucket wheel excavators, and conveyors. In this mining method, explosives are first used in order to break through the surface, or overburden, of the mining area. The overburden is then removed by draglines or by shovel and truck. Once the coal seam is exposed, it is drilled, fractured and thoroughly mined in strips. The coal is then loaded on to large trucks or conveyors for transport to either the coal preparation plant or directly to where it will be used. Most open cast mines in the United States extract bituminous coal. In Canada (BC), Australia and South Africa open cast mining is used for both thermal and metallurgical coals. In New South Wales open casting for steam coal and anthracite is practiced. Surface mining accounts for around 80 percent of production in Australia, while in the US it is used for about 67 percent of production. Globally, about 40 percent of coal production involves surface mining. Area Mining
Strip mining exposes the coal by removing the overburden (the earth above the coal seam(s)) in long cuts or strips. The soil from the first strip is deposited in an area outside the planned mining area. Soil from subsequent cuts is deposited as fill in the previous cut after coal has been removed. Usually, the process is to drill the strip of overburden next to the previously mined strip. The drill holes are filled with explosives and blasted. The overburden is then removed using large earthmoving equipment such as draglines, shovel and trucks, excavator and trucks, or bucket-wheels and conveyors. This overburden is put into the previously mined (and now empty) strip. When all the overburden is removed, the underlying coal seam will be exposed (a 'block' of coal). This block of coal may be drilled and blasted (if hard) or otherwise loaded onto trucks or conveyors for transport to the coal preparation (or wash) plant. Once this strip is empty of coal, the process is repeated with a new strip being created next to it. This method is most suitable for areas with flat terrain. Equipment to be used depends on geological conditions. For example, to remove overburden that is loose or unconsolidated, a bucket wheel excavator might be the most productive. The life of some area mines may be more than 50 years. Contour Mining
The contour mining method consists of removing overburden from the seam in a pattern following the contours along a ridge or around a hillside. This method is most commonly used in areas with rolling to steep terrain. It was once common to deposit the spoil on the down slope side of the bench thus created, but this method of spoil disposal consumed much additional land and created severe landslide and erosion problems. To alleviate these problems, a variety of methods were devised to use freshly cut overburden to refill mined-out areas. These haul-back or lateral movement methods generally consist of an initial cut with the spoil deposited down slope or at some other site and spoil from the second cut refilling the first. A ridge of undisturbed natural material 15 to 20 ft (5–6 m) wide is often intentionally left at the outer edge of the mined area. This barrier adds stability to the reclaimed slope by preventing spoil from slumping or sliding downhill The limitations on contour strip mining are both economic and technical. When the operation reaches a predetermined stripping ratio (tons of...
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