Robert Ober & Associates, LLC
Projects - Suncor Dover — UTF Mine Abandonment Project
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Suncor Dover — UTF Mine Abandonment Project

Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada :: Underground Mine — Permanent Abandonment

Summary:

Re-activate dormant mine hoist system in order to access mothballed underground operations. Decommission underground equipment to be entombed in the old mine and extract equipment to be put on display at the Oil Sands Discovery Center in Ft. McMurray, Alberta Canada. Strip mine shafts and prepare them for back-filling with a specially designed low shrink concrete mix. Set up on-site concrete batch plant and produce 4,000 cubic yards of concrete to fill the abandoned mine shafts. Demolish all above ground mine shaft related buildings, reclaim waste water treatment pond and buried oil storage tank, and finish grade site.


Aim and Goal:

The main goal of the project was to safely, securely and, in an environmentally friendly manner, abandon the Underground Test Facility (UTF) that was developed jointly by the Canadian government and certain oil companies in the mid 1980’s. The mine consisted of two vertical shafts approximately 750 feet deep and a series of drifts about 2.5kms in length. The facility was used to develop new methods to extract oil from the Canadian Tar Sands. Once the mine had been properly abandoned the area above the mine could then be re-purposed for additional buildings and facilities as required.


Challenges and Solutions:

The main challenges and how we conquered them.

CHALLENGE: Gaining access to the old mine after it had been abandoned for about 8 years and thawing ice at the bottom of the shafts in order to allow the cage full travel.

SOLUTION: The first trip into the mine was via the ladder. Once it was determined that the mine was safely accessible our team members, skilled in underground mining operations, refurbished necessary components of the equipment that had been idle for years and began an extensive process to thaw out the more than 18” of ice that had formed in the shafts at the drifts. They used a combination of direct heating systems, ice-melting materials and manual ice removal techniques.

CHALLENGE: How would we extract a large piece of equipment that measured 30 feet x 12 feet x 10 feet and weighed 79,000 pounds using a cage that measured 6 feet x 6 feet and could hold no more than 8,000 pounds?

SOLUTION: Our expert team of iron workers and miners dismantled the large drill that was parked at the back of one of the long drifts – carefully documenting each step –then transported each of the 28 pieces to the mine shaft where they were then hoisted to the surface. On surface, the drill was reassembled, cleaned and painted and transported on a special trailer to the Oil Sands Discovery Center where it is currently on display.

CHALLENGE: To locate and deliver to a site 80 kms from the nearest town, thousands of tons of sand, gravel, cement, fly-ash, add-mixes and water and then produce a very unusual type of concrete designed specifically for the project. This all had to be done in an extreme remote location where temperatures reach 40 below zero.

SOLUTION: A small self-contained concrete batch plant was set up inside an old warehouse, alongside a large trailer-mounted hot water heating system, insulated water storage, covered and heated sand and aggregate stock piles and cement silos. The concrete was produced – one cubic meter at a time – conveyed into a stationary mixer truck where it was then metered into a pump and pumped 400 feet through an insulated slick line to the mine shafts. During concrete production, materials were delivered daily from as far away as an 18 hour drive – one way.

CHALLENGE: Safely dismantle and dispose of the 109 foot high insulated head-frame structure and extensive sub-grade foundation systems.

SOLUTION: The exterior cladding of the structure was removed manually, all the insulation was stripped and sent to a certified disposal facility and then the demolition crew moved in. The rear support frames were sheared off, the interior steel infrastructure of the main tower was cleared, leaving only the 4 main support columns. A long cable was attached to the top of the tower on one side and the large track-mounted shear proceeded to shear two main columns, allowing the track hoe on the other side of the tower to essentially pull the tower over. Hundreds of tons of scrap steel was then sheared into manageable pieces and recycled. The concrete foundations and pilings were then excavated to a depth of 3 meters, jack-hammered out, pulverized and recycled.

CHALLENGE: Determine what was in the ice-covered, concrete-lined waste water treatment pond and oil skimming tank, safely dispose of the containment structures and contents then reclaim the entire impacted site.

SOLUTION: Environmental experts were brought in to test the contents and upon discovery of heavily contaminated liquids a disposal plan was developed that included pumping and scooping the contents into specialized transport trailers, delivering these loads to an approved disposal facility, pressure washing the concrete basin, breaking up and removing the concrete liner for recycling, hauling in clean back-fill material and finally grading the site.


Significance and Innovation:

This mine was the key component of one of the most significant endeavors of the Canadian Government in the mid 1980’s to discover how best to extract oil from the vast reserves discovered in Northern Alberta. As new technologies developed, based on information gathered at this mine, it became more feasible to extract the oil from above ground using newer directional drilling technologies. The owners of the mine had been working for years with various firms to develop a viable plan for abandoning the mine that met the stringent guidelines of the Alberta Governments Environmental and Mining Authorities. They had spent millions of dollars and lost valuable time during those years and still had no workable solution. The innovative idea of using a team of concrete professionals and mining experts managed under one corporate umbrella that would produce quality specialized concrete on site was the only plan that met all the requirements of the challenging project.


Training:

Due to the unique nature of this project and the area in which it was located, all personnel were trained extensively in many areas including the delicate environmental surroundings, personnel safety, underground rescue procedures, hazards associated with oil field work, oil extraction and refining, underground mining work, mine hoist operations and concrete production, delivery and placement. The mining team was trained in concrete production and the concrete team was trained to work underground. The team developed into a cohesive working unit that completed a total of 30,360 man-hours without a safety incident or injury.


Timetable:

After many months of project design and contract work, the on-site work officially started on December 12, 2012 and was officially completed on September 19, 2013. Personnel were on-site continuously for that entire time with the exception of a two-week period in May when we were evacuated from the site due to heavy rains washing out roadways and making them impassable for delivering critical supplies such as food and water.


Personnel:

The team comprised of experts in many fields including safety, QC, welders, riggers, millwrights, electricians, laborers, batch plant operators, mine hoist operators, shaft experts, underground mining professionals, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, demolition experts, environmental consultants, concrete testing teams, concrete pumping experts, communication specialists.

PHOTO GALLERY
UNDERGROUND MINE

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