Archive for the ‘Engineering – General’ Category


Today I received the followings announcement by email.  I cannot find the original on the website of the BC Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM).  Maybe they have not gotten down to posting it yet.  The announcement, in short, is that MEM has awarded Klohn Crippen Berger (KCB) a $1.5 million to help MEM evaluate the cause of the Mt Polley failure–more specifically to provide advice in conducting the “forensic investigation” into the breach.

I can think of no firm in BC better qualified to provide such services.  They have many great tailings engineers on staff.  As noted in the announcement: “KCB is a large company with highly qualified engineering and technical staff with the resources to assist in this very complicated investigation. KCB has a certified soils lab capable of conducting all necessary tests for this investigation.”

Here is the full text of the notice.

Notice is hereby given by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (the Ministry) of its intent to contract with Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd. (KCB), to provide the following services related to the breach of the tailings storage facility (TSF) at Mount Polley mine.

  •  Provide expert advice to the Chief Inspector and other Investigators conducting the forensic investigation into the TSF breach.
  • Prepare suitable questions and conduct interviews of mine personnel and engineers having knowledge of the TSF.
  • Review geotechnical reports relating to the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and surveillance of the TSF. This includes several hundred reports and documents including, but not limited to: design reports, construction summary reports, dam safety inspections, and site investigation reports.
  • Plan and coordinate a field program of geophysical sections, drilling, Cone Penetration Testing (CPT), and laboratory testing.
  • Implement and supervise the aforementioned field program.
  • Conduct laboratory testing.
  • Prepare a site investigation report to summarize the field program.
  • Interpret site investigation data collected from geophysical sections, drilling, CPT testing, and laboratory testing.
  • Conduct forensic analysis to assist in the determination of the root cause of the breach, and any contributing factors.
  • Conduct seepage, stability, and numerical modelling.
  • Prepare a geotechnical report that summarizes the interpretation of geotechnical data.

The contract is not expected to exceed $1,500,000 and is expected to cover a period of 1 year, starting November 10, 2014.

The Ministry did not call for vendor proposals for the following reasons:

  •  The need to hire a consultant not previously associated with the Mount Polley mine to avoid a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest.
  • Urgency to start the investigation before disturbance of the site due to mitigation works or weather. KCB was on-site within two weeks of the breach and has been involved in the investigation ever since. The on-site field program is approximately 50% complete.
  • If a contravention of the Mines Act is found, tight timelines for the investigation are legislated under Section 37 of the Mines Act.
  • The need for continuity in the investigation. In May 2013, KCB along with four other consultants, had responded to a “Request for Qualifications” to qualify for a pre-qualification list. At the time of the breach, KCB was selected from that list as the most qualified to assist with the Mount Polley investigation and did not have a conflict of interest.
  • Posting an open competition would delay the investigation and compromise the integrity of the ongoing investigation.
  • KCB is a large company with highly qualified engineering and technical staff with the resources to assist in this very complicated investigation. KCB has a certified soils lab capable of conducting all necessary tests for this investigation.
  • KCB engineers have previous experience with forensic engineering investigations of this type and scale.
  • KCB has engineers qualified to complete this work that are registered with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC). Engineering work in British Columbia must be completed by professional engineers that are members of APEGBC.

Vendors wishing to object to this decision should contact George Warnock at George.Warnock@gov.bc.ca before November 7, 2014 at 2:00 pm Pacific Time, presenting specific reasons for their objection. If justified, a vendor’s meeting, with Ministry representatives present to discuss the decision, will be called to receive vendor representations regarding this contract.

Vendor ability to offer products and services resulting in the same or better solutions in the same timeframe will be the key criterion with regard to the consideration of vendor objections. Vendors must be qualified as professional engineers in British Columbia and have no conflicts of interest at the mine. In addition, vendors would need to demonstrate previous forensic engineering experience involving a dam failure investigation of a similar scale.

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Note that KCB has been on site since two weeks after the incident; the investigation is expected to take upto a year to complete, although field work is already fifty percent complete; and KCB must “Prepare a geotechnical report that summarizes the interpretation of geotechnical data.”

I suspect this notice has been issued now probably because somebody has complained about so large a contract being awarded in the absence of competitive bids.  It is certainly unusual to make such an announcement six weeks after work started.   If you want to protest now, there is a procedure, but I venture it is too late to change things—not easy to “demonstrate previous forensic engineering experience involving a dam failure investigation of a similar scale.”  Why even KCB does not have that experience!

Dirk Van Zyl during his speech at the recent Tailings and Mine Waste conference told us that Thurber Engineers is working for the Morgenstern, Vick, and Van Zyl (MVV) panel drilling, sampling, and testing site soils.  Presumably they will in essence write a geotechnical report that summarizes the interpretation of the data.  Although such a report may well come out under the signatures of Morgenstern, Vick, and Van Zyl–assuming they can agree.

Dirk joked about multiple drills, drilling side by side, and not sharing data with each other.  A minor inconvenience and a non-thrifty approach at best.  Still at least MVV do not have to support forensic working possibly leading, in three years, to criminal convictions.  MEM appears to have undertaken to do that themselves.  Or will they hand the KCB report to the local police in Likely?  Or to the Federal Mounties, riding on white horses to our rescue?

But now we have, in a sense, a fourth group working to establish the cause of failure.  It is hard to believe they will concur—and then who judges?  Probably a Judge?   So there must be a fifth group working for Imperial Metals to prepare their defence.  I read somewhere that SNC Lavalin is working for Imperial Metals.  I wonder if I will live long enough to see this Bleak House affair through the courts to final settlement.

Recall that Bleak House tells of a will that lands up in court.  Some decades later litigation ends as legal fees have consumed the estate being fought over.  What hope for Imperial Metals and the BC taxpayer?  On which point, the MEM announcement makes no note of who will pay the $1.5 million to KCB or the $1.5 million to Thurber, or the many dollars to the MVV panel.  The bills to MEM must be adding up.  I wonder if they will every get this money back from Imperial Metals, or if the BC taxpayer is already coughing up the dough?  We are certainly paying now, pending possible success in recouping the cash from Imperial Metals.


On a final note, you can, if you have the right experience, join the KCB team.  Seven days ago they posted an ad looking for a tailings engineer who will, inter alia, do the following:

  • fill a senior technical role focused on tailings management design with conventional or alternative technologies, dam design, mining geo-structures and operations support for projects worldwide, most of which are in extremely challenging environments in remote and logistically challenging locations
  • work with our leadership team of world recognized tailings engineers each with more than 30 years of experience
  • manage and execute projects, including quality control, time and budget management
  • deliver projects successfully and be accountable for project planning and direction
  • prepare and review technical reports, drawings, specifications, bill of quantities, and cost estimates
  • sustain client relationships and develop new business
  • join a dynamic company of motivated and hardworking professionals committed to delivering high quality engineering and environmental services

No mention of forensic ability though.  Maybe that comes with the turf. So stand by: the circus is only going to get bigger; the rings more; and the players will all be lawyers or supporters thereof.  And as a taxpayer, you can take a sideline seat to enjoy justice being done, probably at your expense.

PS.  I blogged some time ago that Jim Kuipers was to take the job of supporting the First Nations in all this.  He emailed me recently to say that he declined the post.  Now word is that yet another consultant is sought to assist the First Nations make sense of this.  Not an easy job, but it might appeal to you.  Think of yourself as the sixth group.

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PPS.  Soon after posting the above, the following comment appeared.  Here is the comment and my answer: (As so often Hardrockminer is the intelligent commenter who brings me back to reality.


I’m stuck wondering how the provincial government would ever find a way to lay criminal charges. Violations of Mines Act would be regulatory offences, not criminal. There is federal law (C45) that would allow criminal prosecution, but the ministry would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much tougher standard than regulatory.

I’m also wondering why the government is hiring an engineering consultant to determine what happened when they have already commissioned the three wise men to do exactly the same thing?

  • Goodness only knows, as my grandmother used to say. I see a great nervousness in all this. Maybe they see duplication as the solution to the imponderable. Maybe KCB have persuaded them to take an independent look–good marketing at work. Maybe the lawyers have primacy==the greater the number of conflicting opinions, the greater the legal battle.

    The Bafokeng tailings failure was decided by a Judge. He concluded it was all an act of God, therefore nobody was liable. Does BC have any religious Judges to render a similar opinion?

    As you note, this is a strange situation.

    PPPS.  As I showered I wondered if the only rational answers to this conundrum lies in irrationality.  Consider.  KCB appears to have been set to work before the MVV panel was convened.  Is it possible that MEM in panic decided to investigate themselves,  aided perhaps by good advice from prominent BC consultants.  Thus MEM set KCB to work.

    Then wiser heads prevailed, and the MVV panel was convened.  By then KCB was at work and nobody was willing or able to stop the juggernaut.  But the MVV panel trust only Thurbers—Morgenstern much admires John Sobkowich of Thurbers, thus they were brought in to do the MVV panels dictates.  Thus we have overlapping mandates, work activities, potentially conflicting reports, and an ungodly mess on our hands.  And either the taxpayer of the shareholders of Imperial Metals will pay.  So what they are both deep pockets!

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mt polley

Along with the picture above, I received by email today the following text.  Take a look at the YouTube timelapse.  Interesting.

What do you think is the likelihood of inaccurate ground investigation leading to design and foundation problems? I am sending this picture of the topography below the TSF. There were artesian conditions reported in several piezometers under the main embankment, which is why the buttressed it and stopped the displacement which had been occurring. It looks as though the swampy, lacustrine sediments could have extended further north and northeast from that shown on the map, and resulted in poor conditions in the area where the dam failed – what do you think? I also uploaded a timelapse video on YouTube compiling Landsat photos over the lifespan of the facility: http://youtu.be/Ac0UlGZSu7w It clearly depicts the water surplus, and the repeated events during 2011-2013 when the TSF was completing full and water appears to be lapping at the embankment edge. During 2014 it occurred in May, June, and July before the 4 August failure. Couldn’t this be monitored and report to MOE and local communities? What do you think about requiring online publishing and full disclosure of all TSF reports?

I have hear that they are drilling in the area of the failure in an attempt to better define foundation conditions.  I have previously noted that there appears to be a change of topography at the corner, and maybe this is related to differential settlement leading to failure.  I suspect we will hear that it is a combination of foundation conditions, the semi-upstream construction, and too much water.  No matter they now have three years to file charges—although the thought & threat of criminal charges which Bennett makes so much noise about perturbs me.  This may have been bad engineering or bad inspection; but somehow I cannot get around the idea that there is criminal activity involved.  What does Bennett know that we don’t?

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Today was a typical day in the life of a mining consultant.  One report was issued; one project put on hold; one request for proposals received; and a long discussion on how to deal with an obdurate client. (more…)

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I was always healthy until I visited the doctor for a checkup.  Then they found all sorts of things wrong with me:  internal components not working; high levels of this and that and consequential concerns; indications of too much drink and smoking; blood pressure where it should not be;  weight too high; and so on.  Although I did loose some fifteen lbs on my recent trip to Peru and Chile. Maybe not enough alcohol,  lots of walking, and all that terrible Peruvian food.  How can you like raw fish in vinegar; black potatoes in squid ink; or slimy muscles in red pepper?  I cannot and probably ate too little. (more…)

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This year I have visited at least sixteen tailings facilities from the far north of Canada to the far south of Chile.  Mainly I was there to see about the state, safety, and ongoing operation of the facilities.  But along the way I had an incredible opportunity to observe and photograph mine water management facilities and systems. In next week’s EduMine webcast on Mine Water Management, I will have a chance to distill these many observations into a coherent whole.  So come join us in the webcast next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  But three hours a day each morning and I will update you on the many systems, practices, components, and ideas I have gleaned from these trips and observations.  Many new case histories courtesy of the mines I visited. (more…)

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At this link is an announcement that the BC regulators are seeking proposals from consultants to help them evaluate the independent dam safety analyses they have ordered be done by independent folk on all the tailings facilities in BC. Dam Safety Inspection Review is the heading.  Here is the full announcement — it is fascinating for what it tells and what it does not tell. (more…)

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Just home from a four-week journey that took me to  Peru, Chile, Keystone CO, Banff, and Ekati NWT.  It is good to be back in the house where you can throw off the formalities of travel, eat simple food, and get drunk in private. They say that Peruvian food is the best in the world.  Indeed it is if you are in a fancy, expensive place in Lima.  But go to a mine and eat what the miners eat, and it is terrible beyond belief.  Rice & beans and other unrecognizable substances of gooey texture.  I lost weight.  Maybe it was the altitude = 14,500 ft.  You walk slow and breathe deep in those conditions. (more…)

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