“Sudbury is the mining capital of the world,” said company president Richard Brummer. “It’s the best place to be. There are only two places in the world where you can drive to as many mines as we can. That’s Johannesburg and Sudbury. Johannesburg probably has more mines, but Sudbury is either a close second or maybe even first.”
Brummer, who is originally from South Africa, began consulting in 1992 on a part-time basis as an adjunct professor of geomechanics at Laurentian University. Within a few years, the consulting practice had become a full-time pursuit and, in 1999, he formally affiliated with Itasca, a Minneapolis-based geomechanics consulting company with offices in the U.S., Asia, Europe, Australia and South America.
“We’re probably the largest of the consulting groups within Itasca,” said Brummer. “There are consultants in the other offices, but they do software development and other things as well, whereas we’re just focused on consulting.”
In 2007, Itasca Canada consultants worked on the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold project in the south Gobi region of Mongolia and the Palobora open pit in South Africa. They also provided consulting services to the Mount Isa Group in Queenland and to a mine in Tasmania.
Itasca Canada’s expertise lies in rock mechanics and ground control, numerical modeling, and mine engineering, design and sequencing. It also designs instrumentation and monitoring systems and does blast design consulting.
“We work for almost every major mining company in the world because, once they get beyond a certain size or depth, they start having ground control or rock failure problems,” said Brummer.
Itasca Canada consultants have expertise in mine engineering, numerical modeling, geomechanics and scientific visualization. Most of the firm’s 11 consultants have Masters and PhD degrees. One hails from Kazakhstan, another from China and a third from Nepal.
Exposure to so many mines around the world provides Itasca Canada consultants with a broad knowledge base of rock mechanics problems.
“We visit so many mines that we have experience with most ground control problems we encounter,” said Brummer. “In Northern Ontario, we have some of the deepest mines you’ll find anywhere.”
The 3,777-metre (12,382-foot) Savuka Mine in South Africa extends deeper below surface, but it’s only 7,300 feet below sea level, compared with the Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins, which is 8,900 feet below sea level, noted Brummer.
“Additionally, mines in the Canadian Shield are subject to a horizontal stress that is 60 per cent higher than vertical stress, whereas the average South African gold mine is subject to a horizontal stress that is 40 per cent lower than the vertical stress,” he explained.
“So, deep Canadian mines start their lowest lateral development under stress conditions that would be experienced in South Africa at depths of over 18,000 feet.”
One of Itasca Canada’s highest profile assignments focused on the failure of the North wall of Rio Tinto’s Palobora pit. Attributed to a block cave operation below the 800-metre deep pit, the failure undermined some of Rio Tinto’s surface infrastructure. Itasca Canada consultants were called in to advise Rio Tinto how further development of the block cave would impact on the wall.
Several open pit mines, including Codelco’s Chuquicamata and North American Paladium’s Lac Des Iles operation in northwestern Ontario are transitioning to underground mining and require similar geomechanical expertise.
Itasca Canada also provides consulting services to Cameco Corporation, which is mining uranium ore in the basement rock immediately below the porous Athabaska sandstone formations in Saskatchewan.
Subject to very high water pressure and high-stressed rock, Cameco has to resort to freezing the ground and grouting to prevent water ingress.
“We’re helping them with their geomechanics design, which dictates where they locate their excavations and how they support them.”
Closer to home, Itasca Canada provides consulting services for Xstrata’s new Nickel Rim South Mine and for several proposed Vale Inco mine-deepening projects at its Copper Cliff, Creighton and Garson operations.