Narrabri Coal Operations is longwall mining coal directly below a 15 to 20 m thick conglomerate sequence expected to be capable of producing a windblast upon first caving at longwall startup and producing periodic weighting during regular mining. Site characterisation and field trials were undertaken to evaluate hydraulic fracturing as a method to precondition the conglomerate strata sufficiently to promote normal caving behaviour at longwall startup and reduce the severity of periodic weighting. This paper presents the results of the trials and illustrates the effectiveness of hydraulic fracturing as a preconditioning technique.

Initial work was directed at determining if hydraulic fractures were able to be grown with a horizontal orientation, which would allow efficient preconditioning of the rock mass by placing a number of fractures at different depths through the conglomerate from vertical boreholes drilled from the surface. The measurements and trials were designed to determine the in situ principal stresses, the hydraulic fracture orientation and growth rate, and whether the fractures could be extended as essentially parallel fractures to a radius of at least 30 m. Overcore stress measurements were used to determine the orientation and magnitude of the in situ principal stresses, a surface tilt meter array was used to determine the hydraulic fracture orientation, and stress change monitoring, pressure monitoring and temperature logging in offset boreholes were used to establish the fracture growth rate, lateral extent, and that the fractures maintained their initial spacing to a radial distance of greater than 30 metres. The measurements and trials demonstrated that horizontal fractures could be extended parallel to one another to a distance of 30 to 50 m by injection of 5,000 to 15,000 litres of water at a rate of400 to 500 L/min. Results from the trial allowed a preconditioning plan to be developed and successfully implemented.

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