Comments from mining regulators come in various flavors. Regulators comment on mining documents whenever you submit them a report in order to get a permit or a license to operate. Here are some reflections on comments on mining documents by mining regulators. These comments include impressions gained from regulator’s comments on many a landfill report I submitted when I was designing and consulting on landfills in California.
The best comments I have ever seen from regulators are those that came to us from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC) on designs for closure of uranium mill tailings piles as part of the UMTRA Project.
Ted Johnson was NRC’s geotechnical reviewer. I came to like and respect him, although he was the most stringent of reviewers of work done by me and my team. His comments indicated: a thorough reading of our documents; a deep understanding of the topic; a firm grasp of the issues; and a penetrating intellect that led to comments and questions that made us think harder, probe the details deeper, and formulate better designs.
He led by comment, by question, by wondering about things we had not thought about. We looked forward to his comments and responded with delight to answer them. I believe that he contributed substantially to the success of the UMTRA project—for we closed 24 uranium mill tailings piles that will, I know, endure for 1,000 years and much more.
At the other end of the scale of comment competence are the ones I dealt with today. They were risible. Clearly the nameless commenter had not read the documents we submitted. Or if they had, they had not understood a thing. The comments themselves were badly written: poor grammar; illogical; and so vague as to be unanswerable.
Of course I had to answer them–the regulator has power and you must bow before the throne of petty tyrants. I applied these rules:
- Repeat what we had previously written.
- Summarize with emphasis what we had previously written.
- Avoid adding one iota of information–they had not grasped the information previously submitted, why add more to confuse them?
- Answer the question most narrowly.
- In fact, first redefine the question in my own terms so that the answer is to my benefit.
This is hardly fair to the process. But that is the way the game is played. Particularly when the regulator is ignorant, stupid, or ill-informed.
There is another side to dealing with the comments of regulators. You can use them, i.e., the regulator and their comments, to your advantage. Do this if you have one of those cash-strapped clients who won’t let you do the work you need to do in order to do a decent job. The trick lies in framing the report with doubts, unknowns, assumptions, and in-between-the-lines pleas for help. Most decent regulators pick up on this, for most are smart and committed, albeit somewhat slow to comment.
Then the regulator comments things like: “It is considered necessary to do this testing, this analysis, this modelling, etc., in order to prove the point.”
You can then pick up on these comments from the regulator and demand that the recalcitrant client provide budget to do the work you know must be done, which the regulator knows must be done, and which obviously has to be done. Celebrate the existence of commenting regulators.