By: Erik Ronald, PG
Mining Geology HQ
6 February 2016
Why the role of a Mine Geologist might be the most important at a mine site
I was recently asked “what does a mine geologist actually do?” and at face value, it seems like such a simple question, right? Perhaps a better question would have been “what should a mine geologist do?”. So I’d like to explore this a bit more with my thoughts, a historical perspective and perhaps hear from some mine geologists out there. The role of the Mine Geologist greatly depends on the needs of the business which includes the mining method and complexity of the deposit (i.e. narrow vein v. bulk commodity), but in nearly all cases, there are some fundamentals which are universal to the role. These are essentially:
- Optimize and delineate ore types and waste within mining areas.
- Understand the mine plan (short, medium and long-term) and communicate the geologic uncertainty or risks to the plan.
- Create or maintain the geologic/Resource model.
- Ensure the mill is receiving not just ore but the right kind of ore (keep feeding the beast!)
- Guide the business on options for ore body expansion programs.
- Reconcile your production data to understand plan performance.
Now each of these bullet points are easily stated, but not easily done of course. If you break down each bullet point you’ll see some commonality. A good Mine Geologist needs to first and foremost have a thorough understanding of the deposit geology, hopefully that’s a given though we can debate that later. I’ll argue that a good Mine Geologist also needs to have a multi-disciplinary understanding of the business including: what’s driving the mine plan, what the mill/processing constraints are, what is deleterious to ore and final product, and have a broad understanding of what can positively or negatively affect the business overall.
Additionally, a good Mine Geologist should be able to put their exploration hat on to allow the business to grow beyond the current LOM plan (can we go deeper, where’s the next pit?). So a successful Mine Geologist should be the go-to person for all things geology plus be able to easily communicate what impacts the geology has on the entire value-chain in business terms to anyone from a field technician to upper management. That might sound like a tall order but considering this is what the company expects from Mine Geologists, I think it’s a fair assumption.
Who’s your typical Mine Geologist?
Now here’s where we can run into some issues. Yes, there are some 20+ years experienced Mine Geologists out there who know their operation and orebody like the back of their hand. But, I think this case has become the exception of late. More often than not, the Mine Geologist is someone with zero to 5 years experience out of university and if they’re lucky, they had some resemblance of a grad program. So why would a business whose primary asset is Mineral Resources/Ore Reserves put someone with little to no training in such a critical role to the business as determining ore from waste? Contrast this to our Mining Engineering graduates who typically spend the first few years of their career as operators, schedulers, blasters, surveyors, crew leaders, truck drivers and so forth in order to learn the business. How, as an industry, are we equally preparing the Mine Geologists?
A History Lesson
I decided to have a quick check of historical references to see how the industry today compares to what’s been written in the past. From Wikipedia to 80 year old text books, we see the fundamentals are the same:
- Mining geology is an applied science which combines the principles of economic geology and mining engineering to the development of a defined mineral resource. Mining geologists and engineers work to develop an identified ore deposit to economically extract the ore. (Wikipedia, 2016)
Mine Geology is the process of maximizing the profitable extraction of an ore body. (Yeates, 2003, 5th International Mining Geology Conference).
- Mine geologists are essentially responsible for evaluating known ore bodies and finding more ore. Responsibilities also relate to geologic factors in the design, planning, and operation of a mine; to characteristics of the ore that is handled in the mineral processing plant; and to environmental concerns. (Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) Mining Engineering Handbook, 1992, Vol. 1, Chapter 5).
- The Mine Geologist is the custodian of the orebody. The role is to maximize the profitability of the Resource and seek opportunities to improve the profitability through the application of geologic knowledge. (McKinstry, 1948, Mining Geology).
What’s the common theme here? Certainly high expectations. This is a business, businesses need to make profits to survive and the business of mining just happens to be taking geological anomalies and extracting them to produce a saleable product. The geology of our ore bodies are the foundation of the business, thus the geologist needs to understand the business to succeed.
One Thought to Take Away
Whether you’re currently a Mine Geologist or a Mining Executive, consider the importance of Mining Geology to the business and how we have prepared the individuals tasked with delineating revenue (ore) from costs (waste) and what that risk means to our business when margins are tight.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring some recommendations to existing and future Mine Geologists along with the industry overall, in hopes of better matching expectations with reality from both sides. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and I welcome your thoughts, feedback or stories from across the industry.
For follow-up reading in mining geology, I recommend obtaining the many publications from the International Mining Geology Conferences over the years and check out our page dedicated to Mine Geology.