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Archive for the ‘mining’ Category

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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.

Santiago has some fantastic places to eat.  We went south, far south, to a mine in high mountains and very beautiful.  The best meal was a barbecue eaten in a wooden lodge with many bottles of mine (not a dry site).  The conversation was animated as they probed me on Mt Polley and how they could avoid a repeat.

Then to Keystone, Colorado and the conference on Tailings and Mine Waste.  I blogged a lot about that and no more to say other than another beautiful place.

Hence to Banff in Alberta and the Banff Spring Hotel, surely the most beautiful place ever.  I was at the wedding of a fellow from the oil sands.  He deserves much happiness with his wife who is a wonderful person.

Then to one of those diamond mines in the far north of the Northwest Territories.  Here the food is superb–turkey and the rest on Thanksgiving day, a day one which we went into the field, the snow, and bright sun to see tailings.

While at Ekati, I spent many hours talking to two great guys from the companies whose names grace the title of this posting.  They make and install screens at mines from Australia to Zimbabwe, from Eritrea to Zambia, with Canada and the USA inbetween.  I know nothing of screens so my opinion is limited.  Apparently they have a process for blending and fusing various metals into screens that solve most screening problems in mining. The impressive part of our discussions in that the companies have grown by about twenty percent per year for the past ten years.  Now almost eighty percent of the South African production is exported.

These guys travel far more than I do.  They have seen more parts of the world than ever I will.  They have travel tales to tell that I never want to experience.  They warn that Venezuela is the worst place to be: getting into a cheap taxi and being robbed blind by thugs.  Lesson learnt; never get into a cheap cab in a foreign place—make sure a certified person picks you up.  In my case I get from the company on whose behalf I am travelling a photo of the person who will pick me up at the airports and I am warned not to go with anybody other than the person in the photo.

Thus we spent many happy hours chatting about mining travels, mining issues, and the state of mining in South Africa.  We agreed that when Julius Malema comes to power there is no option other than to flee as he is a malignant dictator who will take South Africa where Cuba and Zimbabwe are now. Here are few photos of travel.

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To end the week, here are a few unrelated postings on the web about things mining. At this link, David Stockman of North American Business Development gives an interview on the topic Dry Tailings Stack vs Wet Tailings Pond.  Make sure to click on the rather obscure play buttons to hear him tell how Mt Polley could have been avoided had it been a dry stack and not a wet pond. At this link is a video showing Pascal Saunier and family singing.  Pascal is of Draintube fame and was one of the presenters at this week’s conference on Geosynthetics in Mining. At this link, available for download is RepRisk’s report on the Ten Most Controversial Mining Projects.  Mt Polley and Obed Mountain of Canada are included.  Here is what they say of Obed Mountain in case you forgot about this one: (more…)

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A few notes on things heard recently about Mt Polley.  I was told this is all public knowledge, although I have not read any of it on the web. (more…)

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I have lost count of the number of radio stations, newspapers, and magazines that have contacted me asking for opinions on the Mt Polley tailings happenings.  Somehow the email from Adrian Lee of that most reputable of Canadian magazine, McLeans, had a air of intelligence the pulled me into replying.  (I confess to being a regular reader of McLeans.) (more…)

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Here are two links to two very different reports on Tahoe’s Escobal mine in Guatemala.  I need to rush to join clients for drinks and supper, so no comment other than to repeat what one of the articles reports on what I said in an interview with the reporter.  Oh Dear! (more…)

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I am not sure I can do it. Can I put in words what it takes to be a great engineer? It is easy to recognize a great engineer when you work with them. I have these past few days worked with a great engineer whom I had not met before. I just know he is a great engineer. But as I said, I am not sure I can in words justify my gut emotion. Let me try, for if I fail this is but a blog posting–one of many, in fact posting 1,953 or thereabouts.

We drove around the sites together. We got out to look and to feel the soil & tailings. We joked that it is no longer considered safe to put the soil between tongue and top of palate to determine if it is a clay or silt. We both used to do that before H&S became a dictator. We shared observations about the vegetation–a sure sign of soil type and groundwater flow. We delighted in the scarp face of a soil failure zone caused by excessive seepage. And we kicked the rocks with glee to see them roll rugged, gray, and non-acid generating down the slope. We marveled at the track marks up the slope where the fussy site overseer continuously dressed the slope. And we poked our ears down the penstock to listen to water flowing when it should not.

He knew the history of the dams: the people who designed them; the problems that arose during construction; the failures during raising; the incidents not reported; the current need for more information; and the way the impoundments must be constructed so that they may be operated for twenty years and more.

We nodded or winked when referring to clients past and present who did not provide adequate budget. We shrugged a shoulder when agreeing the mine gets what is pays for and pays for a lot more when it does not pay its consultants to do what they know needs to be done.

Instinctively we concurred that the mine deserves its sorrows when it cuts budgets or defers inevitable capital expenditure and maintenance.

He has that singular gift of focusing on what is relevant. He cut through the underbrush that distracts the inexperienced and unskilled. He calmly focused on the sights, sounds, and senses of that which will fail soon if not remediated. And ignored the spectacular but irrelevant.

Yet he has been a good consultant to the miners. He has used judgment when the youth would have demanded finite element analyses. He has made quick decisions based on knowledge and experience when the youth would have waded through tests, trials, and tribulations. He has produced in the face of small budgets and demanding miners.

And now as he gets old, he gets patient. There is no hurry. So what if the report is late or never produced. “Just hear me and do it.”

And that is the ultimate sign of a great engineer: they know they are right and know they do not and cannot write enough to prove they are right.

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More than twenty-five years ago, I spent six months in Oak Ridge, Tennessee opening the Jacobs Engineering office.  Then we won a job that required me to move to Pasadena, California.  This week I am back in the state and see much change.  Highway 40 from Oak Ridge to Knoxville was a quiet road.  Now it is continuous commercial development and an eight-lane freeway.  The weather is still perfect and the people still have that wonderful can-do attitude.

Those miners I have been with this week are so American.  Their attitude is always:  that is a great idea–we can do it; but here is a better idea–what do you think?

So we leapfrog from issue, to question, to idea, to analysis, to solutions.  And the outcome is a positive advance based on mutual agreement.

Did you know that Tennessee is a mining place?  One of the largest producers of zinc concentrate?  Some of the mines are one-hundred and more years old.  Of course there is still some coal mining, but I know little of that.  As the picture above shows, natural gas is a thing I thought not off way back then.

The food is great:  meat and sauces, fries, and sweet tea.  Then there are those many variations of Jack Daniel’s that I cannot get elsewhere.  Right now I type to the tune of Winter Jack: “A seasonal blend of apple cider liqueur & Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey.”  Magnificent.  No wonder mining is so smooth.

I am told the regulators are great people to work with.

So the mines advance with the usual issues to be dealt with: too much vegetation in waterways & spillways; seepage through rock embankments; tailings pools too close to dikes; the threat of hurricane-induced probable maximum precipitation; and the New Madrid earthquake that makes this a region where seismic stability analyses are no deal and a big deal.

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