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Geologists Going Beyond Geology

You all know that a geologist is “a scientist who studies the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth, as well as the processes and history that has shaped it” (Wikipedia, 23 June 2012). I believe, however, that those geologists working for mining or exploration companies in search of metals tend to have a greater level of responsibility than the definition suggests. The Venn diagram below illustrates the extended role a geologist plays in relation to the long-term sustainability of the company for which they work.

We’re also starting to see geology teams representing industry-best practice and award-winning innovations in the social and environmental aspects of their roles. Two examples of such initiatives were recently highlighted in the Western Australian Golden Gecko Awards in 2010, which were awarded to Crosslands Resources Ltd and Pluton Resources Ltd, both for exploration-related initiatives.

Crosslands Resources Ltd (CRL) intended to explore an area where the most northerly population of a conservation significant spider species existed. It was thought that the vibration from the drill rigs would impact the spiders and, therefore, a 200m exclusion buffer was placed around each burrow. This stopped the planned drilling program. CRL partnered with Phoenix Environmental to develop a research program that demonstrated vibration would not impact the spiders. Exclusions buffers were reduced and the drilling program commenced. The exploration teams were more familiar with the spider population than the consultants, put up signage, reduced speed limits, educated and monitored drilling contractors, and basically ensured that the spiders were protected.

Pluton Resources intended to explore Irvine Island, which is of significant importance to the traditional owners, the Mayala people. A close partnership with the Mayala people was formed with the company respecting the traditional owner’s wishes of ensuring very low environmental impact throughout the exploration program. As a result, a helicopter was used to transport “low impact” drill rigs to various locations on the island (resulting in no ground disturbance for tracks or pads). In addition, accommodation pods (originally designed by NASA) were positioned at the camp site resulting in minimal ground disturbance.

Both companies, through their geology teams, demonstrated to their stakeholders that it would engage them throughout the decision-making process and would genuinely address their concerns. And both companies turned what was originally considered a risk to the company into an opportunity that has earned them not only the ability to progress their respective projects, but also an excellent reputation within the industry and stakeholders. This is a fantastic outcome!!!

My question to the readers of this Blog is:

Do you know of other examples where geologists have played a key role in demonstrating excellence or industry best-practice in the social and/or environmental aspects of their jobs?

If so, I’d be keen to hear their stories.

Note: This Blog has also been published as a Guest Blog on GeoEpok.

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2 responses to “Geologists Going Beyond Geology

  1. Hi Lara,

    I have quite a soft spot for Mygal’s which aren’t everyones cup of tea. Funny that, I can’t understand why people wouldn’t like huge hairy black spiders, with big downward stabbing venomous fangs? Vey strange! Only last week I was called out to relocate a Missulena sp that was worrying (an understament) some site personnel. I thought it was lovely, my colleagues almost to a man and woman disagreed vehemently. Oh well! Each to his own. My liitle mygal mate, was in actuality, the only one truly at risk. Impressive as his (yes, as usual, it was a wandering love lorn male in search of female company) shiny black and red exoskeleton was, it was going to be no match for a 100 tonne Dumpie, or a wayward steel cap boot. Still, all credit to my colleagues, it was spared the boot or shovel, and the Enviro was called in. Hooray, Enviro saves the day! Well the spider anyway!

    Nevertheless, the protection of all fauna and flora, especially those that have restricted distributions, such as Short Range Endemics, is increasingly important. It is heartening to see that the Western Australian government, and the Office of the EPA have demonstrated an increasing awareness of the issues facing SRE species with respect to the risks posed by the booming resources industry in this state. [They] are finally taking on board and implementing information from, lets face it, a very select group of experts and scientists. Many of whom have until quite recently, had little hope of influencing environmental policy. The vital knowledge and insights of these experts, restricted to Journal articles, papers, and their opinions relegated to the realms of academia. We are indeed fortunate that an appreciation of the conservation and protection of this states biodiversity is no longer only the concern of these specialist, that they are being listened too, and the issues have much higher public awareness.

    There is however, unfortunately, still remaining from my experience, a considerable lack of appreciation amongst resources professionals, of the significance and growing importance placed on SRE species. A significance, that their Environmental colleagues are now mostly very familiar with. It is disappointing when colleagues see and view conservation of biodiversity as nothing more than a hinderance, nuasance or block on what they see as their personal objectives and responsibilities. Here lies continuing tension within many resources companies. And I believe, a failure to see both the bigger picture, and an opportunity to achieve both operational excellence and oustanding environmental outcomes.

    Bridging this divide between specialist professionals is critical, and must be seen as one of the key duties and tasks facing any company environmental department. Not an easy, or thankfull task in many cases. It does help enormously, when the board and management are fully supportive and knowledgeable of environmental best practise. Unfortunately, this support falls short all to often.

    The Gecko award for Crosslands, as I see it, awarded as much for their cross-discipline environemental awareness, as anything else, is a shining light. A case where, a true appreciation and responsibility for an environmental issue has been fostered and cultured. An appreciation that has been truly shared, resulting in a wonderful co-operative solution. This can only be a win win for the company, and of course the fauna being protected, and our states biodiversity as a whole.

    I only wish this example of the spirit of co-operation and of shared team resposibility within a complex cross-disciplinary team environment was more widely practised. We would have many more examples of superb environmental and corporate outcomes if it were so. Bravo, Crosslands, Bravo Crossland Geo’s!
    Not forgeting of course, Jarrad and his team at Phoenix who’s input and expert help was a big part of the story. Nice one Clark, J et al

    Thanks for sharing Lara, really highlights a very important area of environmental practise and awareness. I hope your blog uncovers other similar stories. I’m all ears. Simon.

    • Thanks Simon,
      I’ll pass your message on to our Geo’s – they will love it!!! Talking of relocating a small hairy black spider; We have engaged Curtin University to conduct a study which assesses the possibility of translocating the trapdoor spiders at Jack Hills, and they are having some success. Under our Part IV approval, we have permission to ‘take’ those that are found within the proposed pit footprint area. But through a partnership with Curtin, we’re looking at the possibility of translocating those spiders. Our geo’s at Jack Hills are facilitating the entire process and giving the student help with logistics, manpower etc…we’ve got a great team up there!
      I’m really enjoying your responses to my Blogs and am still following up on the rehabilitation one.
      Cheers
      Lara

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