March/April 2011

Student Life

Ordinary turned extraordinary: Poland field trip was the highlight of a Laval University student’s summer

By Alexandre Dorval

A field trip to Poland made last summer an exceptional one for me and two other mining engineering students from Laval University. The primary goal of the trip was to deepen our understanding and knowledge of mining methods and equipment that are rarely seen in Canada. We visited Pomorzany (zinc-lead), Ziemowit (coal), Wieliczka (salt), Polkowice-Sieroszowice (salt and copper) and Rudna (copper), all of which are underground operations.

We received a very warm welcome at all of the mines and were treated to rare rock samples and demonstrations of equipment on maintenance.

Throughout our trip, there were moments when the cultural gap felt pretty big; language was our biggest hurdle. Happily, we had Professor Parazsczak to help us.

Then there was religion. Poles are a lot more religious than Quebecers, and we were amazed by the sight of chapels and religious objects everywhere we went. But probably the most surprising thing we saw was the way the mine buildings and exterior yards were decorated with statues representing miners; there was also a lot of open space between buildings. This was quite different from what we have at home.

The first visits were very interesting. For ground support, arches made of steel and wood are the foundation of everything permanent. We also had the opportunity to see a demonstration of a shearer. Observing the shearer working in front of us, with the hydraulic support on the ceiling and the caving behind us, was the best way to learn and understand the process. A few times during our visit, our guides even stopped the workers to show us how the equipment works.

Half-way through our trip, we went to visit the famous 700-year-old Wieliczka salt mine near Krakow that offers tours to the public. Happily for us, there is a tour for people with at least a basic understanding of mining. Salt sculptures, cathedral-like caverns, a sanatorium, 45-degree veins and fascinating geology awaited us there. The salty air and salt crystals were everywhere in this mine that is still operational – although now the salt is extracted by dissolving it in hot water.

At the two last mines, we explored differences in ore body volume and everything related to it. At Polkowice-Sieroszowice, around 400 million tonnes of copper and about three billion tonnes of salt are mined using the room-and-pillar method, but with different equipment in each case. The salt body is exploited with a tunnel boring machine (TBM) using 25 square metre surface, while the copper body is exploited with low-profile equipment. Once again, we were treated to a demonstration, this time of a TBM, which ended in a salt storm. To my amazement, there were no rock-supporting devices to be seen, even though some rooms were huge. The temperature reached as high as 35 degrees Celsius, even though we were only 300 metres deep. The last mine we visited, Rudna, has an ore body area of 416 square kilometres and 11 shafts, for a daily production of 43,000 tonnes, all exploited by the room-and-pillar method. An impressive 4,500 employees work at each mine.

This field trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I thank all the mines for their hospitality. I am grateful to Professor Paraszczak and to Dominic Gravel for his idea of visiting Poland and for organizing the hotels and flights. Thanks also to Waldemar Korzeniowski (professor and department director in mining engineering faculty of AGH – University of Technology) for helping organize the mine visits. Last but not the least, a huge thanks to Jacek Paraszczak for the major part he played in the organization of this awesome field trip and for translating everything our hosts were telling us.

As the Polish miners would say to us when we met them underground: SZCZĘŚĆ BOŻE (God bless you!).

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