The sign on the door of the trailer proclaims MARINE ENGINEERING. There is no ocean around Fort McMurray, I commented. I was soon informed that this is the headquarters of those who go out on the tailings impoundments on boats. Thus they are mariners.
I recalled with horror my one trip out on a boat across a storm-driven diamond tailings impoundment. It was cold; the boat was metal; the engine small; and the pilot old and grumpy. He too was an ancient mariner. We were “out to sea” to see fine, fluffy tailings that would not settle.
Then there is the wild-life biologist with whom we had dinner this week. His studies were in birds. His major job is managing the thousands of cannons that ring the tailings ponds and go off regularly to scare away water birds. But his most exciting tasks involve dealing with the some forty bears that currently wander the site. Apparently recent fires in the area have forced the bears to congregate on the mine site.
“They get to know me,” he says. “The first time I make a loud noise to scare them off, they run away. But they become habituated to me. They move off twenty feet or so when they see me get out of the truck, but they no longer believe in the noises I make.”
The smarter bears who learn to open the bear-proof garbage cans have to be trapped. “It’s up to Fish and Wild Life to decide what to do with the bears I trap.”
His shining memory is of pulling a deer out of a silt pond and over six hours cleaning her, giving her water from his hard hat, and massaging her limbs until she was able to rise, wonder off, and resume grazing.
Then there are the folk in the permit centers scattered around site. Their job is to issue permits to those needing to go into an are to work. The permit center folk must know what is going on in detail, must advise of hazards, and have the responsibility to make final decisions about acceptable work practices. They have a rare combination of attention to detail, people-handling skills, and calm in the face of impatience.
There are many laboratory technicians. All seeming younger than the next. They appear to enjoy their jobs which consist mainly of driving around site in big trucks, taking samples of soil, water, and tailings, and going into the labs to yield sensitive equipment to measure parameters on which big decisions are made.
The point of this short blog posting is to remind you that it is not necessary to be a mining, civil, geotechnical, mechanical, or other engineer to work on a mine. It is not necessary to drive a truck, bus, or cab around the site. There are plenty of other jobs on mines for those with the desire and skills. Enquire at a mine near you about the unusual jobs they have.