It has been a good weekend, although some mining issues have caused me concern—not enough to induce worry, but enough to merit record in this posting. Thus let us go through the main events of the weekend and follow the concerns that arise in the course of weekend pleasure.
On Saturday night, we went to see the Marriage of Figaro, put on by the Vancouver Opera. I once again commend Goldcorp for being a corporate sponsor of the opera in Vancouver. This is admirable and impressive.
I note by way of full disclosure, that I am engaged by Goldcorp on a tiny project at one of their mines in a far-away country. But they know nothing of my love for opera, and they have not asked me to write this. In fact, I suspect they are entirely ignorant of these writings. More: Nobody will advertise on this blog because, as they tell me, they do not want to be associated with my incendiary opinions. So the fact that I even mention Goldcorp is obviously an act of independent decision and action. They would probably I did not mention them or commend them. But I claim the rights of a blogger who could afford to be kicked out tomorrow and who may even welcome enforced idleness. Better to keep me fully employed and away from too much blogging and too many independent ideas about mining.
I am more impressed by Goldcorp’s support for the opera when you consider they have their annual general meeting coming up and that event tends to attract the anti-mining crowd. I wonder if the protestors will now chant: “No Mining; no opera; no Goldcorp!” Sad thought!
I am impressed by Goldcorp’s support of the opera, particularly when you consider the topic of The Marriage of Figaro. The uneducated say it is a comedy. But to me it is social satire and criticism of the existing order and the power structure. Dangerous ground for a mining company to traverse.
Consider: Figaro is the only person in the opera with honorable intentions. He seeks to wed and bed his lover, Susanna. The Countess is flirting (and probably more) with the page, Cherubino, surely one of the most over-sexed character in opera. The Count has just abolished the ius prima nocte. (Droit de seigneur in French. The Right of the Knight to the First Night, or What Opera & Mining is all About, in English. Afterall, the head of rock mechanics with Rio Tinto was there too at the opera.) Now the Count is seeking to enjoy Susanna and the ius semper nocte. Marchellina, is trying to enforce a debt to get a boy-toy to marry her, only to discover the boy-toy is her son by another court hanger-on. Long live the aria Sua Madre, Sua Padre.
In addition, the opera portrays the leaders of society as inept, blundering, over-sexed, and incompetent. The peasants are portrayed as humble, servile, and cowardly. Hardly mining or anti-mining stuff.
Only Figaro is honorable, smart, and nice. But he is, afterall, still an aristocrat. Kind of like the COO relative to the Chairman of the Board. And even then he is not altogether nice: he indulges in some rather unkind revenge on the Count for lusting after his (Figaro’s) betrothed. Bravo for opera as a window on life. I am reminded of a statement by a gay man I once met who described Mozart’s operas as “too close to the sad truth of life to be tolerable.”
Turning from opera and Goldcorp to Suncor. I read the paper at this link. It is the paper quoted by the Alberta ERCB in support of that terrible regulation that new oil sands tailings should have a strength of 5 kPa one year after deposition. As a mining core concern, this is a terrible example of misapplication of honest engineering technical writing. The paper provides no support at all for the position taken by the ERCB. As I rode my bicycle through a light spring rain, I pondered the issue of should they authors disavow the regulation and set the record straight? Should we invoke the Figaro-approach to deal with the ineptitude and venality of the Count? Afterall, in this case who is flirting with whom? Who is responsible for this glaringly bad soap opera? And who should do what to set matters straight?
Then I turned to the computer and a new EduMine course I am working on. Again by way of disclosure, I have five courses on civil engineering aspects of mining up on EduMine. I am working on the sixth. It is about the geotechnical engineering aspects of tailings impoundment, waste rock dumps, and heap leach pads. Maybe it will be live within the month. I call them mine geowaste facilities. I cannot stand those pompous terms tailings disposal facilities. The name is simply a lie, a whitewash of the truth, a glorious opera aria like the one the Countess sings when she bewails the fact that the Count is unfaithful. In fact he is trying to be unfaithful, but to no avail, while she and the page–well this is a family oriented site afterall. Or at least it is for miners who care not for the coarser aspects of human frailty and sexuality. La donne mobile.
Then I worked on two papers for the October conference Tailings & Mine Waste to be held in Vail, Colorado. I am not too proud to produce more unreadable technical papers to justify a trip to such a beautiful area of the world. Here is the abstract of one of the papers:
The thesis of this paper is that tailings impoundments fail as a result of a string of incidents, each of which is trivial and within the bounds of normal events, but which, taken together, constitute an event so unusual that it lies outside of the bounds of normal occurrence and experience. The string of incidents leading to the failure of a tailings impoundment may be understood and evaluated in the light of the theory of the Black Swan, an event that nobody could have foreseen, that results in extreme consequences, and which can be explained after its occurrence by all on the basis of standard knowledge. In this paper we examine current theories and hence methods for avoiding failure of tailings impoundments. We find them all lacking, and so we proceed to set out proposed approaches based on incident control, checklists, and Black Swan avoidance to limit and hopefully eliminate the possibility of failure of tailings dams and the consequent loss of life and property.
How is that for addressing the concerns that arise as I walk home in the rain with a bicycle that has a flat tire? I replaced the tire on Saturday, and went for a long ride on Sunday. And as I entered the townhouse complex, negotiating slowly through a group of kids at play, there was an enormous explosion that frightened them and set me awry. The new tire burst in a loud bang. I have taken the bicycle to be serviced and to have the front wheel straightened, for it has become buckled from too much hard riding.
Geoffrey Blight, retired Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa has just published a new book Geotechnical Engineering for Mine Waste Storage Facilities. In this book he comprehensively describes the history and current state-of-the-art of South African tailings disposal. Go to almost any other country where there are mines, and you find the offices of consulting practices that started in South Africa and that have expanded globally on the strength of their tailings expertise: SRK and Knight Piesold are but two examples. This paper is a short history of tailings disposal design and construction starting in South Africa with Fraser F. Alexander and the ring dike system and thin lift subaerial deposition; then progressing through the years of emigration from South Africa of engineers and companies to most other mining countries. We tell the story of how South African engineers and consultants have become so integral a part of current international tailings practice by adapting South African practice to international needs and by adopting and integrating practices pioneered by the great North American engineers faced with earthquakes, cold climates, dry deserts, and social & environmental concerns not initially part of early South African practice.
Actually while writing the paper I abandoned the idea set out in the abstract. Instead I just wrote the story of the people in South Africa who developed slimes dam practice and engineering. Something Blight does not do in his otherwise comprehensive book–an opera with no music or human interest.
Thus to the DVD, a bottle of wine, and maybe some pate bought at Granville Island. And tomorrow back to work.