Mine tailings jobs in Alberta, Arizona, Botswana, and everywhere else

Fraser Alexander was a foreman on a mine in South Africa in the early 1900s.  He was in charge of building the sand and rock dumps.  He did this mostly by experience and native skill.  One of the problems was the collapse of the advancing face that carried the coco-pans and their rail lines to the bottom of the dump. Fraser had a team of mules to collect this material for reuse. He was so well organized, he sat in his hut most of the day and watched the workers. This is where the mine manager found him, “doing nothing”, and so fired him. He went home to sit on the stoop and relax.

But things at the sand dump went from bad to worse.  Those left behind could not manage the operation.  This threatened to shut down the mill.  In desperation, the mine manager sent a delegation to Fraser Alexander to ask him to come back to his old job.  He declined.  Things got worse and worse at the sand dump, so the delegation returned.

He offered to come back, not as an employee, but as a contractor and he demanded to be paid a penny a ton of sand or rock.  His offer was accepted, he returned, and the sand dump was back in operation.  He never complained again. Sometime later Fred joined his brother and they formed Fraser F Alexander, a mine waste contracting company.

Fraser F Alexander did little, but knew a lot.  He was able to make a success of even the most primitive tailings facility.  To this day, in South Africa, there is still a category of folk called The Slime Man.  Their duty is simply to watch and work to make slimes deposition effective.

The Greens Creek, Alaska filter-pressed dry-stack is a relatively small operation.  It has been ongoing for a long time now.  You would expect most operational activities to be routine.  They are planning the seventh expansion of the facility.  You would expect that also to be routine.  Yet nothing about constructing and operating a tailings facility is ever routine.  For that reason the mine has a full-time person of long and proven experience assigned to the dry stack.  I have met him.  He is my age, quiet, prudent, and more than pays for his time and expenses by making all operations and construction smooth.

This advert for a person to become the Tailings Dam Operator at a mine in Botswana, nicely captures the role and responsibility of the key person:

  • Monitors the smooth running of the tailings section and reports any abnormalities or challenges to the Shift Supervisor
  • Stays at the designated work station to closely monitor the control parameters and ensure maximum plant efficiency
  • Carries out frequent inspections of the tailings dam and addresses any faults or deviations that may lead to production losses
  • Monitors the performance of the tailings dam equipment and liaise with the Supervisor if equipment is damaged or operating inefficiently
  • Participates in all relevant company, departmental, sectional and unit HSE (safety) and housekeeping initiatives as stipulated in company procedures

My point is that even the worst-designed tailings impoundment operation will be a success if there are good field operations folk. The best-designed tailings impoundment could fail if the right field folk are not in place and empowered to act.

Never stint on getting and paying for able and intelligent people to operate your impoundment.  They will be cheap by comparison with the alternative.

More expensive no doubt will be the person who takes this job that involves “providing technical guidance, mentorship, and supervision for the technical team…that consists of mine planners, tailings planners, and other technical support service positions; and being responsible for management of mine technical issues related to mine and tailings planning, survey, reclamation, and interactions with mine operations.”  Additional aspects of this role include:

  • Develop the mine and tailings plan component of the annual business plan
  • Participate in the development and stewardship of mine production schedules
  • Assist with the evaluation of fixed and mobile equipment and continuous improvement activities
  • Provide oversight and review of technical work
  • Lead and participate in safety, health, and environmental programs
  • Interface with other projects and operations groups.

Then there is the consultant looking for a tailings engineer to the following:

  • fill a senior technical role focused on tailings storage design, dam design and related mine engineering and operations for projects worldwide, most of which are in extremely challenging environments in remote and logistically challenging locations
  • manage and execute projects, including time and budget management and quality control, 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
  • travel to project sites worldwide and to KCB offices in Canada, Australia and Peru.

The strangest job posting for a tailings engineer is the job in Phoenix, Arizona. The candidate is expected to develop business for a growing successful team of civil, geotechnical, and process engineers to support M&MP (whatever that is) projects in the USA.  In addition, the superman candidate is expected to focus on the development of tailings disposal solutions for the oil sands business and to develop skills that may be transferable to the minerals industry.  I cannot get my head around how you will develop oil sands tailings business from Phoenix.  Particularly when you also have to be prepared to travel to Australia, South Africa, and South America in support of other regional and international tailings groups.

Funny thing is that I suspect I could do this.  The question is why would I want to?  Good luck to Hatch in finding this person.  How much would you pay me to do it?