We likely have all heard the statement that increasing pit wall angles will result in significant cost savings to the mining operation.
What is the potential cost saving?
The steeper wall angles reduce waste stripping volumes, which also provide other less obvious benefits.
I was recently in a situation where we undertook some comparative open pit designs using both 45 and 50 degree inter-ramp angles (“IRA”). I would like to share some of those results and discuss where all the benefits may lay.

Comparative Pit Designs

In this project, four separate open pits were designed with 45 and 50 degree IRA’s in an area with hilly topography. Some of the pits had high walls that extended up the valley hillsides. Its not hard to envision that waste stripping reductions would be seen along those areas with steepened walls.
The results of applying the increased  inter-ramp angle to each of the four pits is shown in the Bar Chart. Note that the waste reduction is not necessarily the same for each pit.  It depends on the specific topography around each pit.
However, on average, there was an overall 15% reduction in waste tonnage.
The Table shown below presents the cumulative tonnage for all four pits. The 50 degree wall results in a waste decrease of 25.4 million tonnes (15%), with a strip ratio reduction from 5.8:1 to 5.0:1.
There is also a very minor decrease in ore tonnage. This is because the 50 degree slopes did lose some ore behind the walls that is being recovered by the 45 degree slope.
In both scenarios the project life would be about 10 years at an assumed ore processing rate of 3 Mtpa.

4 Positive Impacts of Steeper Walls

In general one can typically see four positive outcomes from adopting steeper pit walls. They are as follows:
1. Cost Savings: The waste tonnage reduction over the 10 year life would be about 25.4 million tonnes. At a mining cost of $2.00/tonne, this equates to $50.8 million tonnes spent less on stripping. This could move the project NPV from marginal to profitable, since most waste is normally stripped towards the front part of the mining schedule with less discounting.
The next time you are looking at the NPV from an open pit project, take a quick look to see if the pit slope assumptions are conservative or optimistic. That decision can play a significant role in the final NPV.
2. Equipment Fleet Size: Over the 10 year life, the average annual mining rate would range from 20.5 Mtpa (45 deg) to 18.1 Mtpa (50 deg). On a daily basis, the average would range from 56,100 tpd (45 deg) versus 49,700 tpd (50 deg). While this mining rate reduction is not likely sufficient to eliminate a loader, it could result in the elimination of a truck or two.   This would have some capital cost saving.
3. Waste Dump Size: The 15% reduction in the waste tonnage means external waste dumps could be 15% smaller. This may not have a huge impact but could be of interest if waste storage sites are limited on the property. It could have a more significant impact if local closure regulations require open pit backfilling.
4. Pit Crest Location: The steeper wall angles result in a shift in the final pit crest location. The Image shows the impact that the 5 degree steepening had on the crest location for one of the pits in this scenario.
Although in this project the crest location wasn’t critical, there are situations where rivers, lakes, roads, mine facilities, or public infrastructure are close to the pit.  A steeper wall could improve ore recovery at depth while maintaining the same buffer setback distance.


Steeper pit walls can have multiple benefits at an open pit mining operation. However, these benefits can all be negated if the rock mass cannot tolerate those steeper walls. Pit wall failures could be minor or they could have major impacts. There are the obvious worker safety issues, as well as equipment damage and production curtailment concerns with slope failures.  Public perception of the mining operation also comes into play with dangerously unstable slopes.
Steepening of the pit walls is great in theory, but always ensure that geotechnical engineers have confirmed it is reasonable.
It is relatively easy to justify spending additional time and money on proper geotechnical investigations and geotechnical monitoring given the potential slope steepening benefits.
When designing pits, there is some value in looking at alternate designs with varying slope angles to help the team understand if there are potential gains and how large they might be.
In closing, I previously wrote a related blog post about how pit walls are configured to ensure safe catch bench widths and decisions as to whether one should use single, double, or triple benching. That earlier post can be read at this link. Pit Wall Angles and Bench Widths – How Do They Relate?
Feel free to share your personal experiences if you are aware of other benefits (or even downsides) to steeper pit walls that I did not mention.
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