A small, sad band of ragged people protested in front of our building today.  Our building houses Imperial Metals and the Mt Polley Mining Company.  The front doors were locked; three security guards held their post; and the elevators worked only if you swiped your access card.

Not sure what their message was.  The banners were scant.  One about the BC government not making reports available—I agreed with that sentiment.  One proclaiming the presence of the Unitarian Church.  I have always admired the logic of their rejection of the holy trinity–for they say there is but one god, not three in one.  Logical as it goes, but I must reject their god-belief and their ability to contribute to the dialogue on Mt Polley.

Talked with people this week on the upcoming expert-opinion report on why the dam failed.  The resigned opinion of one very close to the process was: “It is going to make a wave; it is going to criticise the system & design; but it will all be a temporary wave and we will soon be back to the calm waters of business as usual.”  Maybe there is reason to protest, and maybe the protestors should include representatives of the BC Professional Engineers Association.

Another I talked to wondered at how BC regulators could spend months on the topic.  Then one told me they had spent six weeks on the topic—going over every letter, email, etc., as the lawyers delved deep into potential illegal acts.

And the third told me of the two young engineers from an involved consulting company.  Apparently one is an EIT (an Engineer in Training) and the other had been registered as a P.Eng. less than two years when the dam failed.  Apparently the lawyers keep them in deposition for over six weeks.  What a way to start a professional career–telling lawyers what you and others did before your project object failed.

Can you imagine all these six-week legal forays?  Count up the cost–it must be immense.  And this is just the beginning.  For, in spite of the first pessimistic opinion, I suspect the legal shenanigans will go on for years.  Well beyond the resumption of mining at Mt Polley or the filling of the open pit.

Of course nobody will go to jail.  Nobody will be personally fined.  Some insurance company will pay.  And what they do not pay, the shareholders and BC public will pay.  Many an opinionated person will travel to conferences to be part of expert panels and many a torrent of hot wind will be expended on how to avoid this again. And it will happen again, for that is the nature of things.

This pessimism is based on what happened after the Bafokeng failure.  Nothing to be precise.  And then Merrispruit failed, and again nothing changed.  And tailings failures continued apace.

So let us watch and enjoy the spectacle of protest, of reports, of court proceedings, of official pronouncements by associations, of expert panels at conferences.  It is all fun and entertaining.  It is enlightening if you pay attention to the detail.  But don’t expect a sea-change.  We will soon to the calm waters of the ordinary everyday.  For human nature is always to seek the course of least effort and maximum profit or spectacle.

The protestors today danced and sang.  Terrible singing–all out of tune–and few knew the words.  Then a group of young folk of diverse race danced and banged drums.  So dull: that unchanging repetition of bang, bang, bang.  And they shouts some hedi-ho words over and over and over.  Not Mozart I am afraid–either the music or the opera.


Geochemists in Mining


I barely passed chemistry during my undergraduate civil engineering degree.  I enjoyed the geology course, although it took a lot of intellect to learn the difference between sedimentary rock, volcanic rock, and metamorphic rock.  For I grew up in the flat, featureless landscape of the Witwatersrand where very old soils covered all rocks—the first rock I saw was in the geology lab. Continue Reading »


At this link is a great infographic on The Evolution of The Landman.  The posting is brief on text.  Here is a little of what is written: Continue Reading »


On the flight from Dallas to Vancouver, I sat next to a young man on his way to Whistler for tow days of skiing.  His three friends, also to Whistler to ski, sat just behind us.  They are all in the American Airlines procurement department.  Hence the free flights and money to spend at Whistler. Continue Reading »


In my last week in southern Spain, we took a walking tour of Rota, the town just besides the Spanish Naval Base where four United States Destroyers are soon to be stationed.  The folk of Rota organized and paid for the tour which included a Spanish breakfast and lunch tapas.  I enjoyed the beer that came with the tapas. Some reflections on Spain now that I am on my way back to North America: Everything is well designed, but nothing works properly.  Continue Reading »


Today I took the ferry across the bay from Puerto Santa Maria to Cadiz.  Took a bike and rode around the city sea-wall and around the old city center.  It is a great ride around the sea-wall.  It reminds one of the age of some engineering works. For here we have fortifications that have been four hundred years in the making.  I saw forts and castles built three hundred years ago to defend the city from the French, the Brits, and the Dutch, who attacked at different times.

It reminds us that closure of tailings facilities for 100 or even 200 years is but the outcome of the short history of North America, and not something founded in a profound perspective of real long-term history.  Clearly we can build facilities that last four-hundred years.  The people of Cadiz did.

True defense of their small city was a survival issue.  And true that closure of most mine tailings facilities is not anybody’s defense or survival issue.  I accept that social  utility may be the basis of a rejection of a long closure performance period.  But after seeing what I saw today, I cannot accept the reason too often given: we do not know how and cannot do it.




Spain and Mt Polley


I have spent the past few weeks in Rota, Spain with my son and family.  The sun shines on the house patio—most times. Athough some days the mist endures all day and it is cold.   Today the sun overcame the mists by about eleven a.m., and it was fun to sit in the sun and read John Grisham’s book The Last Juror.Sometimes I come inside and work on the computer.  I read what is written on Mt Polley and update an EduMine course that I am writing on Risk Assessment, Decision Making, and Management of Mine Geowaste Facilities.  For the failure of Mt Polley tailings facility is the best possible current example of the failure of risk assessment, decision making, and management of geowaste facilities we know of. Continue Reading »


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