There's more to modern mining than just digging a big hole in the ground. Unlike the old days, governmental regulations aimed at keeping mining operations in step with environmental laws are enforced aggressively, and large firms are taking care to distance themselves from the ways of the past. Companies hire environmental professionals to interface with regulatory bodies and communities, and to ensure best practices.
While they may not be doing any of the actual digging, there's no shortage of things for an environmental professional to do at a mine. Duties can include permitting and approvals, which is a large task when opening or re-opening a mine, says Nancy Duquet-Harvey, a 14-year industry vet currently employed as environmental coordinator at Northgate Minerals Corporation's Young-Davidson Mine. You could also be out in the field collecting samples and managing data in preparation for reporting results, or overseeing the implementation of permit conditions and ensuring compliance with rules and regulations, and the training of the workforce. To add further variability to the job, the work may change depending on how a mine matures. At this stage of the project, I'm heavily involved in the permitting aspect, she says of her current assignment. It's mostly paperwork and liaison with aboriginal and community groups and government agencies. As permits are received, programs that include manuals, procedures and training have to be created and implemented.
Linda Byron-Fortin is the director of Blue Heron Solutions for Environmental Management, Inc., and has been working in the industry for 21 years. Of her time as an environmental coordinator she remembers that, in addition to the paperwork, there was also a strong social component to the job. Some days might be spent being inspected by regulatory agencies or responding to audit/inspection findings, she says. Some time is also spent conducting regular site inspections and doing emergency response drills to ensure environmental emergency plans are up to date and effective.
The challenges of the job can be as varied as the tasks involved. The workload is a big challenge ' there are pressures from regulators to ensure compliance with their requirements; pressures from corporate office that all corporate standards are being adhered to, says Byron-Fortin. There's an additional challenge in that the most environmentally friendly way of doing things isn't always the most inexpensive, efficient or the simple way, so you've got to keep mine personnel educated on environmental responsibilities. Coordinating and communicating with so many varied groups of people is also a complex task. A mining company must work closely with government agencies during the permitting stage to make sure that everyone is on the regulatory path forward, says Duquet-Harvey. Working with community groups through newsletters, open houses and meetings helps provide information to all about the project and address any concerns of community members.
Blake Schreiner worked as a chemical technologist for over 5 years before deciding to pursue his interest in Geochemistry in the mining industry. Currently, he's in the midst of completing his Geological Sciences degree at the University of Saskatchewan, but he's already planning his entry into his chosen field. The biggest advantage I've obtained is from embracing opportunities like mentorship, scholarships and trade shows, and becoming a part of associations related to the mining industry, he says. He's also been helping his fellow students segue into the industry as well by sharing what's worked for him. There are a lot of ways to become familiarized with what you'll actually be doing, like labs or classes with real scenarios you'll encounter in the field. Of course, networking is also a key to success. Become involved with associations like MiHR, CIM and PDAC, regardless of your grades, he offers. It'll let you become aware of what lays beyond the classroom through conversing with experienced people, and likely land you a summer job, which is a great way to gain experience before graduation. Many companies will hire you back year after year.
Numerous graduates enter the field with little to no experience and expect to start earning top wages. In this industry, experience rather than the number of letters after your name is more valuable, cautions Byron-Fortin. Volunteer for job-shadowing, or take a summer job as a technician, she advises. Be willing to spend time in the trenches.
Times have changed, and so has the mining industry. Mining is no longer about big, burly men working only with their muscles, says Duquet- Harvey. It's sophisticated, high-tech, diverse, challenging and fun. jp