Shales play a major role in the stability of slopes, both natural and engineered. This paper attempts to provide a review of the state-of-the-art in shale slope stability. The complexities of shale terminology and classification are first reviewed followed by a brief discussion of the important physical and mechanical properties of relevance to shale slope stability. The varied mechanisms of shale slope stability are outlined and their importance highlighted by reference to international shale slope failures. Stability analysis and modelling of anisotropic rock slope masses are briefly discussed and the potential role of brittle rock fracture and damage highlighted. A short review of shale slopes in open pits is presented.


Shales have been stated to form approximately 58% of sedimentary rock so it is not surprising that they are frequently encountered in both natural and engineered slopes. They represent challenging environments for slope stability due to the wide variation in their engineering properties, their changing behaviour with time due to geomorphic processes and the variation in the failure mechanisms as a function of both stratigraphy and tectonics. An extensive body of literature exists on the terminology and classification relevant to shales; it is not possible in the scope and length of the current paper to review these works in detail and the reader is referred to Farrokhrouz and Asef (2013), Bell (2000) and Goodman (1993) for detailed discussions. It is arguably the case that no universally accepted classification of shales exists today and depending on the field of application the terminology varies widely. Shales in slope stability, for the purpose of this keynote paper, are taken to include material varying in properties from weak rocks to soils and therein lies one of the most challenging aspects in shale slope characterisation for engineering purposes. They have been classified as "rock-like" or "soil-like", (Underwood 1967) or compacted and cemented, Table 1, Yagiz (2001). Classifications have considered numerous factors including composition, cementation and a wide range of engineering properties.

The propensity of shales to degrade with time due to geomorphic processes has resulted in an important aspect in their classification, that is, the attempts to incorporate slaking, durability and swelling and softening behavior through purpose developed testing methods (Gamble 1971, Morgenstern and Eigenbrod, 1974). Figures 1 and 2 show examples of terminology used to describe argillaceous materials and some proposed engineering classification schemes (Grainger 1984 and Bott 1986). Corominas (2014) provides a recent classification of argillaceous rocks and their durability relating five stages of slope deterioration to the texture of the rock on Ternary diagrams. No attempt will be made here to discuss the merits of the proposed terminology and classifications, suffice it to say, that the controversy and flux surrounding these issues is a strong indicator of the complexities in the behavior of these materials. In this paper the author will consider slope stability in the materials indicated in Table 1, Figures 1 and 2 without undue focus on terminology. At the lower strength limit of shales the engineer must design slopes using the principles of soil mechanics which may vary from the simple Mohr Coulomb plasticity constitutive criterion to modified critical state models, some even attempting to incorporate softening behaviour in the weaker clay shale materials. Given the transitional nature of shale materials several workers have treated overconsolidated clays and clay shales using concepts such as peak and residual shear strength, brittleness index and softening. Martin and Stacey (2013) provide a useful review of the importance of weak rocks in open pit mining, with mudrocks as a specific member, and note the importance of delayed failure, progressive failure and loosening in the stability of weak mudstone slopes.

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