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P1020639

It is no secret that I make money off mining.  I work as a part-time civil engineer with a consulting practice that works around the world.  I retired nearly ten years ago, after nearly ten years working on landfills, California earthquakes, and supporting lawyers representing big companies falling foul of law suites.  I have an LLB degree in addition to my civil degrees and was able to use this knowledge to translate technical and engineering issues into winning legal arguments.

But before that I had worked in mining for so many years it is embarrassing to recall.  Once retired I spent two years doing essentially nothing but enjoying grandkids–all eight of them.  But one rainy Sunday I was called in to meet some guys.  I met them drunk, wet, and dishevelled.  The rest is history.  Now they are personal friends and we have achieved great things in the oil sands industry.  From there it was a slippery slope into more than full-time consulting.  Which is how I get the mining money I freely spend.

Today I spent a fortune on a new pipe and tobacco.  I first smoked a pipe when I was fourteen. Tubby Morris and I were friends.  He desired my sister, I desired his sister.  We agreed to cooperate in the pursuit.  Neither sister cared for us as brothers or suitors.  So we did the next best thing: we went behind the barn and smoked a pipe.

As a hippie at university I was very poor.  I subsisted on a scholarship from Union Corporation, the mining company my father had worked and died for.  Today what is left of Union Corporation is deep inside BHP Billiton.  Bet they do not even recall that.  Although I do and am still grateful for those dribs of mining money that enabled me, as a long-haired student, to afford a pipe and the occasional tobacco fill.

Tubby Morris aka Brian Morris became a doctor.  I know not where he is or what good he did.  His father paid for his education from money earned owning a jewelry store in Springs.  I wonder if this posting and the wonders of the internet can find him and we can reminisce about very old times.

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This week I spent a fortune at Mark’s Work Wearhouse, the so-Canadian store.  There you buy reasonable quality clothes at high prices.  The clothes are wearable and durable.  Good quality without style or pretensions.  I bought two merino wool undershirts to keep me warm in the cold that has descended on Vancouver.  I bought a pair of leather gloves in yellow with a manufacturer’s logo on them.  Hardly style, but comfortable and warm.

Then I went to the Bay, or Hudson’s Bay as it was called, and bought a sleek set of leather gloves in brown.  Even more comfortable and warm, and with style, at least to my eyes.  Trouble is that wondering around the Bay I realized just how far out of fashion I am.  In spite of money from mining.  Or maybe because of mining instincts become reality.

On Saturday after the opera and a good meal at Wendy’s (the height of my gastronomic desires), I went to the local private liquor store and spent yet another fortune on brandy.  That is what fortifies me as I type now.  I have read that at last in April 2015 we will be able, in BC, to buy booze in the local grocery store.  I am delighted that BC is coming into the modern age.  But I will still support the local, private stores.  All a matter of rejecting government liquor stores and big companies.  Still the essential rebellious hippie, I suppose.

Then of course, contrary to what I have just said, I went to IKEA and bought new chairs and bookcases.  That old sofa was just too dirty to clean after the last visit by the grandkids who spilled coke and candy all over the uncleanable surface. And the books and DVDs I buy almost every day were just getting to be too many for the existing bookshelves. More mining money well spent.

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Finally today I paid my APEGBC P. Eng. fees. Ouch that was the most expensive purchase of the week.  For today I was informed that I have been re-registered as a professional engineer in BC.  I let my BC registration lapse more than twenty-five years ago.  Then I was in the US, was bringing up three kids, and earned a grand sum of $52,000 Canadian dollars.  And we were living in the US. And the Canadian dollar was worth even fewer US dollars than today.  And the exchange rate is bad enough today–for today I sent $2,000 dollar to my daughter so that she can continue her masters studies in Iowa to be a civil engineer specialized in town and regional planning.  Talk of mining money well spent?

The point is that I let my BC P. Eng. registration lapse.  I could not buy kid’s shoes and afford the BC registration fees.  The US company I was working with would not pay the fees as they did not work in Canada.  What was I to do faced with a choice between BC P. Eng. fees and kids’ shoes?

I was nice today to pay the APEGBC fee and immediately expense it to the company—although these day I could easily have paid out of my ample pockets.  Although I am still supporting kids in their studies.  Incomes have gone up.  Although I probably could not today afford the Vancouver house I bought in 1980 on a salary of $52,000.  In spite of a great income increase.

In being readmitted to the APEGBC I had to explain why I claimed 80 hour of professional learning activities this year.  Seemed a no-brainer.  I have spent far more than 80 hours this year writing this blog.  I decided they would not credit blog writing as professional advancement.   So I noted the two papers I wrote this year; the four papers I coauthored; the three one-day courses I gave; the four EduMine webcasts; the new EduMine on-line course on geosynthetics in mining; the conference I organized on Geosynthetic Solutions in Mining; the three conferences I attended this year; and the support I have given to younger engineers in doing a good job.

I did not mention that most of my consulting work in foreign countries involves solving new problems and writing reports about alternatives for solutions to problems not hitherto solved.  I sat back in amazement when I cogitated on the fact that I have proposed more solutions than will ever be implemented.  For ideas are always easier than implementation.

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Now by Canadian law I can call myself a civil engineer.  I have always called myself a civil engineer, even though, as I learnt reading the books on Canadian professional engineering, you cannot call yourself an engineer unless you are registered as a professional engineer.  Damn it, I got two degrees in civil engineering and nobody can stop me from telling the truth: I am a civil engineer, regardless of how many bills I pay.

In America the idea that the law could stop you calling yourself anything you wish falls foul of the uber-concept of freedom of speech.  Yet I have always maintained my California P.E. registration.  I worked hard for that one.  I had to pass the exam on seismic engineering and the exam on California survey practice—which is different from everywhere else.  Plus the Californians care nothing about continuing education.  Good for them.  I gave up my New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, and Kansas P.E.s as they demand an annual report on professional studies.  Plus the cost just skyrocketed.

My point is that money earned honestly in mining can do much good, and has done much good for me.  So sad to read the report in the issue of McLean’s that arrived today on the poverty in the Bigstone reserve in Alberta in the middle of the oil sands mines.   Those silly buggers earn $2 million a year in oil sand royalties, and they have many millions in the bank.  But they scrap amongst themselves and still have dirt road and dilapidated houses, and no education programs for their kids.  Read the complete article: it is the most depressing thing I have come across in a long time.  For they have mining money not spent. And they have depression untold.  All due to what? I I would be racialistic to write an opinion.

Let us conclude thus:  mining money prudently spent brings happiness, well-being, education, and societal advance.  But imprudence can squander such opportunities equally quickly.  You just have to get out and do things.

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P1020657

This posting is a favor for someone I admire.  She seeks a job in mining and well deserves one. This evening I went to her farewell party from the company she is leaving.  She is leaving because the downturn in the mining industry means the company has to cut. The temperature was ten degrees; the rain was soft & gentle; the lights sparkled on the wet roads; a group of revellers from Fort McMurray smoked outside; the TV screens were alive with the game; and the beer was deep & good.  The poster said: “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us happy.”  So we drank more beer; mine was a pale ale of deep flavor & texture.  Chicken wings with lots of spice rounded out the party.  As did the animated conversation. We said goodbye in sadness as we celebrated her moving on.  But where to?  Maybe you can help. She is young enough and very beautiful.  But that is irrelevant.  She is enormously talented.  I have worked with her organizing a successful conference.  She did all the work.  I got the glory.  She managed many with skill, grace, and finesse.  She was ever attentive to the details and the people.  She put up with my irascibility and imperiousness.  She brought the IT folk to attention and got the surely supporters to do what they were paid to do. She went to Mexico to solve difficult corporate problems.  She went to Peru to deal with corrupt employees.  For she speaks perfect Spanish and worked many years in Mexico.  She is the person you need on your team if you deal with the particularities of Latin America.  She is tough but graceful.  I predicted she would take over the company.  I was wrong—those of more insidious political bent undermined her and got her laid off before them.  Her first but not only skill is human resources.  So maybe if you know a mining company that needs an all-rounder, she is your choice.  I bet my bottom dollar on her future. Contact me at jcaldwell@infomine.com if you need this kind of outstanding person.  I will vouchsafe for her ability and am sure you will benefit if you employ her.  Thanks as KUSC plays the Nutcracker, for Christmas comes.

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Decision making in engineering demands a logical process that is well documented.  Particularly if you are selecting a new site for a mine waste disposal facility.

In 1983, Andy Robertson and I wrote a paper available at this link on site selection.  The ideas were based on what we did to locate the site of the tailings facility for the then new Greens Creek mine.  The site was selected and is still in use.

To be fair, the year before in 1982, Andy had published a paper on site selection for uranium mine wastes–see this link.  And even before that Andy and Allan Moss, now a senior rock mechanics specialist with Rio Tinto, had prepared a paper on site selection in general for mine waste facilities–see this link.

The point is that for a very long time in mining we and many others have used formal, documented procedures for selecting new sites for mine waste facilities.  Yet—even today, this very day–the procedures we eschewed are violently and gratuitously ignored.

Along the way on the UMTRA project we used different procedures to select the fourteen new site to which we relocated uranium mill tailings piles that were in eminently unsuitable locations.  The methods we used are well documented in the UMTRA Technical Approach Document.  It is available on request from the UMTRA librarian or from me if you send me a request email.   All the sites we selected are good and safe today.

You can use Multiple Accounts Analysis (MAA) or Multicriteria Objectives Analysis, or any of the commercially available computer codes to undertake a formal, documented site selection process.  Seems like forever ago that I wrote the stuff at this link where I listed some of the codes.  Truth is the codes from Palisade are probably the best.

Yet even today, this very day, there are projects of great significance involving the relocation of acid generating uranium mine waste where an opinionated project manager is selecting the new site on the basis of personal opinion. Of course they get it wrong.  That is inevitable.  When the characteristics of the site are so apparent that they cannot deny the unsuitability of the site, they wave a magic wand, issue an imperial decree, and say: “Leave that site and go to that other one instead.”  No reason or rationale in this benevolent, omnipotent dictator approach.  Poor (dumb) old taxpayers saddled with the costs of these silly decrees.

My opinion is that people get the government they deserve.  Maybe in this case the people of the country are getting what they deserve:  obdurate, opinionated, ignorant, public-paid project managers.  Serves ‘em right for being so callous.

The point is that too often the science and engineering is old and well known.  But young bucks of uncertain education and ability, with no curiosity or perspective, blunder ahead in full confidence of their ability.  Pity the environment; pity the taxpayer; and pity the integrity of engineering.  Is that why the Roman empire fell?

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The Tyee, a local Vancouver e-newspaper with a decidedly liberal bent today published an article on peer review of Mt Polley.  David Ball is the author of the piece.  I think he did a good job in balancing the opinions. I admit to being hopelessly prejudiced in this opinion.  For if you read David’s piece, you will note that he quotes me and Nordie Morgenstern.  David called me a while ago and asked how I would have gone about preventing Mt Polley and how I would go about preventing future Mt Polleys.  We talked long about peer review.  To his credit he checked what I was telling him by contacting Nordie Morgenstern.  He also established that there is currently only one tailings facility in BC that has a peer review board. (more…)

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P1020694

The new book Nature, Choice and Social Power by Erica Schoenberger of John Hopkins University is available from amazon.com.   I got an e-copy and have read the first few chapters that deal with mining.  She writes well, so it is easy and pleasant to read.  She is not polemic, but sets out the stories and facts in an even-handed way.  If you are interested in the relationship between history, social needs, power, and mining, you will enjoy those parts of the book on mining. (more…)

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I have always been fascinated by the role mining played in the glory that was Athens and hence the whole western world we enjoy.  I only wish somebody would write an intense history of Athens focussed on the mining and the role it played in the rise and fall of Athens.Sadly, most commenters end back up saying mine responsibly.   Vague and hard to do. (more…)

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The PowerPoints of presentations from the Tailings and Mine Waste Conference in Keystone are now available.  At least the PowerPoints of those authors who gave permission.  See this link.

They are all interesting, so choose those that interest you.

I recommend the presentation by Steve Vick who is one of the reviewers of the failure of the Mt Polley tailings facility.  He assures me that he compiled the presentation before the failure and there is no connection between what he says in his presentation and what he might say in the panel findings.

The presentation by Franco Oboni touches on the same topics as Vick’s but takes a different approach.

I particularly like the presentation by Craig Benson on the hydrologic performance of final covers.  He concludes that we can and have constructed covers to last for at least 1,000 years.

I am sure there is much to say about these presentations and indeed the other presentations, so please comment.

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