The Varied Roles of Geoscientists in Mining
Jonathan G. Price, State Geologist Emeritus, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, University of Nevada, Reno
Geologists play many essential roles in the life cycle of mining. These include technical aspects of discovery and development of ore deposits, safely and efficiently mining ore and extracting valuable minerals, and environmental protection and sustainable land use after mining. Geologists, particularly ones with good social and business skills, often also play key roles in interacting with stakeholders to obtain social and regulatory licenses to operate and with investors to raise capital to explore and mine.
Different types of geologists are needed for mining to be as sustainable as possible, with rewarding job opportunities in industry, government, and academia. Geologist is broadly defined as a scientist who studies the Earth and Earth processes. Geologist therefore includes specialists in various subdisciplines and related aspects of science and engineering: geochemist, geophysicist, structural geologist, engineering geologist, environmental geologist/scientist, geobiologist/ecologist, geoarchaeologist, paleontologist, stratigrapher, petrologist, mineralogist, geometallurgist, geomorphologist, geographic-information-specialist/geographer, geostatistician, hydrogeologist/hydrologist, engineering geologist, geological engineer, geotechnician, geotechnical engineer, etc., any of which is commonly termed a geo in the mining industry. An economic geologist (including exploration geologist and mine geologist) has come to mean a geologist who specializes in mineral resources, but the skills of a good economic geologist may include those of many of the specialists listed above. The mining industry employs not just traditional economic geologists but all these geo specialists.
The Need for Mineral Resources
Geoscience Communication Skills
Stakeholders are involved throughout the life cycle of mining (Fig. 2). These individuals and groups include residents and businesses of local communities and regional jurisdictions; indigenous people from the area; governmental regulators; investors, corporate leaders, and employees; suppliers; academicians; and non-governmental organizations and other concerned individuals. Because exploration geologists are commonly the first people on the ground representing mining companies, their social and communication skills are vital to setting the stage for transparent and trustful interactions with stakeholders as an exploration project advances through discovery of mineralization, development of an ore deposit, mining, extraction of ore minerals, waste management, land reclamation and related environmental protection to long-term, sustainable land use.
Communication and social skills are key for geologists to explain their views to management and regulators. For example:
- with information from geological mapping and geophysical and geochemical surveys, geologists recommend where and how deep to explore;
- with geochemical data collected during exploration, geologists caution about environmental concerns due to potentially toxic elements in the ore and waste rock;
- with mineralogical and structural data from exploration drilling, geologists identify safety hazards for mining engineers to mitigate;
- with petrographic observations of ore minerals and their intergrowths, geologists advise metallurgists about options for mineral extraction;
- with expertise in erosion control, slope stability, and hydrology, geologists help plan for waste disposal, reclamation, and sustainable land use.
Geoscience courses that reward excellent written and oral reports and encourage discussion of technical, economic, social, environmental, and ethical issues help students develop their communication skills.
The Life Cycle of Mining
A series of articles in the Newsletter of the Society of Economic Geologists (Wood, 2018; Wood and Hedenquist, 2019) provides more details about roles of geologists in mining. Rewarding jobs related to mining can be found in industry (exploration, development, mining, and reclamation), government (regulatory oversight and providing data and maps that stimulate exploration and aid in long-term sustainable land use), and academia (teaching the next generation of geologists and conducting research that generates new ideas and approaches to exploration, ore processing, waste management, and reclamation). Preparing students for these jobs involves exposure to a wide variety of geoscience topics as well as development of the communications skills that will be needed to succeed.
Brininstool, Mark, 2017, Copper, in Mineral Commodity Summaries 2017, U.S. Geological Survey, p. 54-55.
Price, J.G., 2013, The challenges of mineral resources for society, in Bickford, M.E., ed., The impact of the geological sciences on society: Geological Society of America Special Paper 501, p. 1-19.
Price, J.G., and Espi, J.A., 2014, Disponibilidad y retos actuales de los recursos minerales para la sociedad: Boletín Geológico y Minero, v. 125, no. 1, p. 3-29, ISSN: 0366-0176.
Wood, Dan, 2018, Geology and mining: an introduction and overview: Society of Economic Geologists Newsletter, No. 115, p. 1-21.
Wood, Dan, and Hedenquist, Jeffrey, 2019, Mineral exploration: discovering ore deposits: Society of Economic Geologists Newsletter, No. 116, p. 1-21.