The “Pail of Crap” story

Progression of ideas...

I first heard a variation of the “pail of crap” story from a VP at FMI who was basically telling me not to worry over the small things. The pail of crap story involves having to slop a pail of crap up and down a hill with some moral to the story. I have modified the story to fit my experience.

In my pail of crap story, the client has been carrying a 3 gallon pail of crap every day from a crap pipe to a sewage disposal site but he is not keeping up. The pill of crap keeps building up and he keeps going faster and faster with his 3 gallon pail. He thinks to himself, “This has got to stop. We need to fix this situation.” He thinks about what would be a good solution and formulates a plan based on his personal experience. His solution: get a bigger bucket.

So, he gets a 5 gallon bucket and he is ready to observe a positive impact in this remedy. However, it is not long before he realizes that not only is the 5 gallon bucket of crap heavier to carry but that the crap pipe is still producing more crap than he can remove. As a matter of fact, there is now a mountain of crap to remove. So, the client hires a consultant: me.

The client has his own idea of solutions he would like to try – all of which involve using buckets carried by hand. He has a list of possible solutions in mind like hiring low salary people to line up and make a hand-over-hand bucket line to pass the crap more efficiently. The client expects me (or any consultant) to come in and step into this plan and make the system work according to his solution.

Now, I have been called on site to look at the way mines move their crap all over the world and I have participated in a variety of solutions – solutions provided by people who study crap moving issues – professional experts certified in moving crap. So, I have my own idea about what is a good solution based on my experience. I tell the client,

I see a better solution. We need to put a direct pipe in place underground from the source of the crap to the sewage plant – eliminate the bucket carrying all together.”

I commonly get a surprising reaction to this proposal: the client does not want that solution. They want to hear how THEIR solution (multiple buckets in a line of people) can be implemented. If you push the “full solution” idea – burry an underground line directly to the sewage plant – the client becomes annoyed, exasperated.

There are many factors that go into the client’s adverse reaction. Number one of which is they get frustrated when someone questions their directive. They don’t want to be questioned not only because it is disrespectful but also, when people question the boss – time is wasted. Another factor is, they have thought about putting a line of people with big buckets in place for so long and they have planned for this, they have budgeted for this, and they want to see it go into effect – they want a line of people with big buckets and they want it now.

So, as a consultant you can help them implement this bucket line (and hope other people in your field do not think this was your idea). Or, you can continue to describe the full solution and hope they begin to see the light.


Under these circumstances, a client may go look for a second opinion, like looking for another doctor. The client may hear the same thing from another consultant. Or, they might find a consultant who describes a great line of people swapping 4 ½ gallon buckets and this will fit exactly with what the client had in mind in the first place.

I recently experienced this situation and wondered, “What good does it do me to recognize a solution when I see one if the client doesn’t want it? What good is this skill to trouble shoot and provide a solution?

I have to make a living but this may mean plodding in the footsteps of someone who wants to tote crap by small buckets.

I think I either need to work behind someone who communicates better than I do, or I need to acquire communication skills – magical communication skills like hypnosis or the Vulcan Mind Meld (or have a frontal lobotomy and get over it.)

“The Cobalt Flower” (an essay by Allan Marter)

Today is Sunday, and after enjoying Vegemite on my toast and some time with Albert (one of the Zimbabweans working for Harry), I thought it might be a good day to explore a little. I had something in mind, and it wasn’t long before I came back to my air‐conditioned container to put some thoughts down

When you drive up to the construction camp at Deziwa, the road curves round the circular open area that outlines the discovery at Deziwa. There is a little rise, too small to be called a hill, but the trees shy away from this area, apparently because of its mineral potential, so it reminds me of a monk’s tonsure. If there is any justice in this country, at some stage in the future this will be the heart of an open‐pit mine that will generate thousands of jobs and will bring millions of dollars in revenue, taxes and royalties to the Congo, but that is indeed on the distant future

Years ago, Gécamines (the state owned exploration and mining company, and our so‐called partner) had dismissed Deziwa as a small scale artisanal site, with little value and no commercial potential. So, over the years since they put a few exploration trenches on the site(in the 1960s), there had been no further exploration and only small scale artisanal workings.

Pits and tunnels had been dug by local miners, who knew that there was at least some money to be made from the cobalt near the surface. Near the surface in this case meant pits and hand‐dug shafts up to 60 feet deep ‐ and that must have been hard work. What the local miners knew was that the presence of the small cobalt flower meant that, not too far beneath the surface, there was cobalt for the taking – and so they did. There are outcrops of native copper here, too (this region is called the Central African Copper Belt, after all) but I don’t think they were concentrating on that, as cobalt is presently worth four or five times the value of copper per pound. The miners were what I would call “illegals” but they were doing what they had done for many years – mining what they could to make a living.

Our company drilled the first hole on Deziwa in 2006, and since then we have proven up project with a value (NPV 15%) of $1 billion at today’s prices. That’s why our so‐called partner and others have been delaying development and trying to steal the project from us for the last two years – since two years ago tomorrow, in fact.

The ground in the center of the project site is covered with this small bluish‐purple flower that grows in a small bush that might be eight to ten inches tall. While the cobalt flower doesn’t look much like the cobalt flower design on one of the archetypal English teapots, it might be related to a cultivated European flower – I wouldn’t know! The flower is definitely more purple than cobalt blue, and within its small size (perhaps ¼ of an inch across) it has a dark purple four-pointed star shape surmounted by two to four smaller mauve flowerets, that appear to grow darker as they mature. (It reminds me of the Manuka flower on the “tea tree” I was familiar with in New Zealand. But while that tree, a bush really, might grow to five to ten feet tall in New Zealand, this plant looks to be limited to less than a foot in the poor soil and tough conditions of the African savannah.) The result of hundreds of these small bushes is to make a purplish haze on the small hillocks that occur naturally and on the piles of tailings (material left behind after being picked over or processed by the miners), where there is obviously enough of whatever nutrients exist that excite the cobalt flower to grow, even if the miners couldn’t make money from the rocks and dirt left behind that it grows on.


My colleague, Mike, had some experience of the cobalt flower when he was developing a mine at Dikulushi about a hundred miles from here in the early 2000s. (The Congo had been closed for business for several years from the late 1990s after the demise of Mobutu and after Zaire had ceased to exist, so when Australian and Canadian mining companies came back into the country they went for the easy projects, ones that didn’t take too much capital to get up and running, just in case things went pear-shaped again. The Copper Belt was an obvious place to begin, as Zambia was close by, just across the lake in the case of Dikulushi, which is where they had to retreat on more than one occasion when terrorists and rebels came too close for comfort.)

As one has to do anywhere in the world, the company had to prepare an environmental impact statement that addressed the impact the mine would have on the local population, the amount and quality of noise/air/water/soils at and surrounding the site, how reclamation would be undertake, the impact of the mine on animals (all pretty much food for prior generations of local people and not usually a factor in this part of Africa) and plants, plus dozens of other factors. It isn’t enough to simply provide jobs, taxes and revenue in any part of the world, be it in first, second or third‐world countries, and international mining companies take their corporate responsibility very seriously.

The South African experts were concerned that the company protect and preserve the “very rare cobalt flowers” that they found on site, and so the company spent thousands to transplant these flowers to a safe location. They dug the plants up, along with the underlying soil down20 feet or so and carefully planted them elsewhere, well away from the impact of the mine and surrounding infrastructure, and there they flourished. Of course, the cobalt flowers also flourished all across the region wherever there were sufficient supplies of cobalt and other minerals in the ground, and the local artisanal miners could have told the “experts” that. Experts – you’ve got to love them!

There were experts in the area recently, along with journalists and a television crew from the British program Panorama. They came in and left quickly, but they got what they wanted, which was documentary evidence of mining companies pumping untreated, toxic chemicals into the local rivers and employing child labor in their mines. The attempt in this case was to smear the giant (and very rich) Swiss trading/mining company Glencore, which has operations abutting our property, although they were doing their program on properties closer to Kolwezi, the very old mining town 35 km from here. I haven’t seen the program (because of insufficient bandwidth here and wanting to keep my blood pressure under control), but from the reviews I have read and the various website posts, it seems like an Avatar‐like anti‐mining rant, so I won’t be rushing to see it. Besides, the truth is always a lot more complex, and it reminded me of what Tom Clancy said “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” It may have made sense for television, and it probably resulted in increased donations for some of the NGOs like Oxfam, but it is a long way from the reality that I see here in Africa.

Sure, Oxfam probably does some good work, but the NGOs and television programs and Avatar‐like movies make fun of the mining companies, those companies that also built schools, roads and medical clinics while providing power and clean water, and then they encourage the locals to throw out the mining companies. That their “evidence” and expert knowledge is based on lies and half‐truths are not considered – fiction makes better television than reality, I guess.

The last time I was here, Harry took me to his project at Kisankala, where he has installed a plant to recover copper and cobalt in and around an old mine site. The place is alive with artisanal miners and we drove through a couple of their villages (“digger villages”, Harry called them) on the way.


(I am usually careful not to be seen taking photos without permission, so we drove past the people in the town, past the ragged children playing in the dirt, past the stores and theaters and pubs and brothels that make up a frontier‐type mining town, and I took the picture above on the outskirts of the village. It’s typical, although the newer part of the town had more people and more garbage.)There are other operations in the area, and Harry looks across at a Chinese operation just up the valley.

Harry is partnering with some Lebanese businessmen from Kolwezi, and they already work with the locals: every day the artisanals bring their bags of product, it is weighed and sampled and the workers are paid in cash that day. In contrast, the Chinese operation has been fenced off and the artisanals who were working there have moved to Kisankala and elsewhere. The miners (diggers and washers, really) are transient and they move where they can get onto a property, so their towns come and go. There aren’t any schools in these areas, and the children do what they can until it’s time to assist with the work. If this was a new mine, the project development plan would provide for housing, schools, medical clinics and the like, but in these informal developments there is nothing –villages come and go, and the government takes no notice. Meanwhile, the artisanals dig and collect what they can in the open pit of the old mine, and then they wash the material in the stream and concentrate the material for sale.


Harry is in the process of installing a washing/concentrating plant and he will work alongside the artisanals who will have designated areas where they can work. They will also be provided with some higher grade stockpiles collected from the pit, a concreted area to work and a water supply for washing the material. There is proper security and a police presence at the project, and rules will be implanted to keep women and children away from the site. How successful it will be waits to be seen, but there is a lot of goodwill for the sort of approach Harry has taken, whereas the Chinese operation is not popular local (although it probably has good political cover in the capital).

It is interesting to think of what a television crew, coming in at the invitation of an NGO, would see here and what they would say. The lack of schools and other facilities in the informal tent village would not be newsworthy, I suppose, and they would not stay to build anything – they would have to get back to Europe to sell their stories – the journalists to the network and the NGOs to provide material for another fund‐raising campaign. Meanwhile, our project at Deziwa languishes and the cobalt flowers flourish.

We would like to invest capital of around $500 million, creating thousands of jobs directly and indirectly and providing income, tax and royalty revenue to the country. Will we have the opportunity, or will the James Cameron’s of the world make more movies about other projects they have defeated? I note that the making and viewing of movies, and everything else we do for that matter, are all dependent on mining – if it doesn’t exist in nature and can’t be grown, it has to be mined. Think of that when you brush your teeth tomorrow, when you drink your coffee in its lovely mug (perhaps with the name of an NGO on it), when you turn the power on or off, when you drive or fly to work…Thank mining!

Colorado Mining Association / Denver Gold Group – St. Barbara’s Day Awards Ceremony, 2011

Last night, my sister (Sue Ellen) and I attended the Colorado Mining Association and Denver Gold Group St. Barbara’s Day awards ceremony at the Grand Hyatt in Denver. I have been working in Nevada for the last couple of years and have been unplugged from the Colorado mining scene. As usual, Stuart A. Sanderson, President of the CMA, provided another stellar presentation of the state of this industry in not only Colorado, but also where this state seems to be headed in comparison to the rest of the country. I always admire Stuart for his dogged representation of an otherwise soft-spoken community of mining people. I told Stuart that the rest of us are grateful for his personality and diligence in representing mining and the reality of this industry to the rest of the general public. His work with legislative bodies and analysis of important decisions that impact mining in Colorado is monumental.

The evening was a pleasant association of miners, engineers, legendary entrepreneurs (“Dutch” Hildebrandt, for example), geologists, and investors. I met people I previously knew from other places, such as Ray Dubois, General Manager at the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine and current Vice Chairman of Hard Rock mining at CMA, old friends such as Dan Witkowski, (Diligent Master of organizing the summer adult education series “All About Mining“– I was disappointed that Dave Cole was not there — he intends to be retiring as Secretary/Treasurer of the CMA Educational Foundation at the end of this year and is seeking a replacement. Hmmm….).

We also visited with Maureen Upton (Founder and Principal at Resource Initiatives – met her at a Denver Mining Club event where she was the speaker), Anne Hite (Director of Investor Relations for Rare Earth Elements), and met for the first time Chief Geochemist for AngloGold Ashanti’s greenfields program, Phillip J. Allen. The distinguished Betty Gibbs refreshed my knowledge of what she does for a living – I thought she owned a GIS company and had no idea she is the Executive Director of Mining and Metallurgical Society of America and consults as a Mine Engineer providing modeling of resources. (Boy, was I outdated! Betty has always been a role model for women in mining. Her accomplishments are encouraging.)

My sister and I were treated like old friends by new faces, including a lot of women I hadn’t met before. In particular, Jill Nelson, Recruitment Manager for Downing Teal, Inc. Her colleague, Senior Search Consultant Jose Antonio Pinedo, was charming and provided interesting perspectives on finding investors. On this topic, (finding creative places to meet potential investors), we listened to a delightful idea provided by Christopher J. Wyatt, V.P. of Behre Dolbear Minerals Industry Advisors. I had mentioned that some on my clients were looking for simple contributions of 25K rather than a few million and speculated that the type of people who have that bundle of cash to invest are probably not very well connected to the mining industry – that those people are looking to find the right company and there is no easy a way to find them.

Christopher suggested that we research where the local medical doctors are having their national conventions and go hang out in that hotel, perhaps at the pool or the bar or maybe even attend the conference, that those are the people who have a chunk of “disposable income” and they don’t have time to look for a mining company. Betty Gibbs liked that idea and noted that medical conventions are often on cruise ships or in Hawaii. We had good laughs over other attractive conventions and their settings.

What a great idea! Conversation digressed from there as to what occupations are probably the most lucrative in this economy with the baby boomers generation entering retirement and that buying gold at a premium high seems absurd unless you are a fatalist and believe the world is coming to an end…

Sue and I spoke with Jane V. Thomas, President of Wyoming Analytical Laboratories, Inc. about the transition in CMA from Judy Colgan (now Executive Director at Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute) to Jody Courtney as Marketing Director and how marvelous these two women are at organization and providing materials and information to our industry. Eventually, after chatting with Andrew Kremer and Jim Beers about Jacobs Mining and Minerals and various places in Colorado or Nevada to visit for beauty, dinner, recreation near mines, we finished the evening with a glass of wine standing in front of an enormous window to admire the magnificent view of downtown Denver from the 38th floor of the Grand Hyatt, listened to Stuart Sanderson acknowledge the lifetime contributions to the mining industry by award recipient, Joel Christman, (retired sales manager for Wagner Equipment and the longest-serving board member of the Colorado Mining Association), and then we headed home. All in all, this was another fine event to celebrate our local mining community and the holiday season.

Geologists Drillers and Driving Fatalities: My Personal Speculation

A friend of mine recently experienced a fatality at their mine – a geologist involved in a car accident died. My friend referred to an odd and well known statistic about the high vehicle-related deaths of exploration geologists and drillers. Most people assume the geologist is looking at rocks out the window and drives off the road and that the driller was being, well, a driller. I learned along the way that most exploration geologists killed in car accidents are usually being driven by a professional driver. Anyone who has ever been driven around Africa, Indonesia, Peru, Russia knows that the professional driver hired by the company has only been driving as long as the company has employed him and that his entire experience has been since he worked at the mine – that he never had a drivers license before. OK – I only experienced that in Africa but the point is that no one drives more than an American born in the USA. It’s in our culture.

Here is what I would suggest is the sole reason for high driving related fatalities amongst exploration geologists and drillers: complacency. True lackadaisical driving because at that moment they are not on a dirt road, not in 4WD, not on the edge of a cliff, not in a pit with right-hand traffic and hundred-ton haulage trucks, not in the jungle, not having an AK-47 in the front seat, not in a melee of anarchy, not bumper-to-bumper-door-to-fender traffic, not driving in a stupor of fatigue, not driving a company vehicle with a slipping clutch, etc. They are simply driving on a nice road, with lovely weather, in a quiet vehicle, under ideal conditions – they are complacent and lackadaisical because they are not in danger. That’s when they get in trouble. That’s when they drive into an oncoming vehicle or leave the road.

I know there are many sad and true cases of fatalities on the job with the geologist driving. I’ve been in a tippy situation in a company vehicle a couple of times. I’ve also seen the squished aftermath in fatal-grams of what happens when pickups meet with haul trucks. That was not the case this week and in these circumstances people are left wondering just what happened and why. In the face of unforeseeable events, there is also that element of fate – timing – God’s Will Be Done man. That’s why the guy standing next to you can be slabbed underground and you didn’t even get dirty. In mining, geologists and drillers get killed while driving (or being driven). That seems to be an enigma that could be addressed in safety shares amongst us geos.

Safety Tantra EXPANDED

(posted on a drill rig’s wall)






I happened to be in a situation I could expound on these safety thoughts:

1) What am I doing?

Well, that is a good question. Right now, I am sitting totally alone, abandoned like a po’ child on a drilling rig in the middle of the night trying to bask in the heat of a propane burner with half a hole of cement setting up around my rods.

2) What could go wrong?
The place could blow up. The rig could burn down. The drillers could destroy our instruments. The cement could leak away in fractures and we’d have to start all over again. The drillers could do it all wrong. We could be here for days trying to freaking fill this hole with cement. I said — we could be here for days trying to fill this freaking hole with cement. The drillers could be in such a hurry to get off their shift that they just squirt a bunch of cement down the hole and it bridges without reaching the bottom. The drillers could be in such a hurry to finish their shift that they throw our stuff around and damage it. I could be left standing holding the bag with lot of chores yet to do.

3) How could this affect me and / or others?

Oh, I’d be pissed. Everyone would suffer if I get pissed.

4) How likely is this to happen?

Highly likely that any 1 – 4 of the above mentioned issues will occur.

5) What should I do?

Bitch. Whine. Complain. Sue. Write a blog. Threaten to quit. Go for a drive. Find the drillers, join up with them, drive around some more. Charge over-time…. look for another job.

A Fish in Water

I was on a site today and began to talk to a driller whom I was told didn’t speak English very well – spoke Spanish. I tried him out. Yup, he comprehended fine, just didn’t have the vocabulary to converse without a hitch. Shortly, he mentioned he was from Peru. That changed everything. A moment before I was talking as if to a new arrival from Mexico, some guy probably living with relatives who helped him get a work VISA or citizenship. Sometimes a Mexican guy will be a bit reluctant to engage in conversation for a variety of reasons: the language struggle and perhaps a bias or even fear of racism or prejudice. They seem a bit nervous or even suspicious about talking to me at first.

The man before me evolved into an international voyager. He came from pretty far
away and landed a nice job. How so I wondered?

We talked about places we knew in common. I worked in Tintaya, Peru in the south. He grew up in central Peru in a gold mining district. That’s where he learned to be a driller for Barrick. Did I know Barrick? Yes I know them. Do I know Newmont? Yes I know them too. He drilled for Newmont in Nevada. Did I know those gold mines in Peru or those companies? Yes, I knew of them though I hadn’t worked there. I worked on a porphyry copper system far to the south in Peru and on a gold mine in northern Nevada. He asked if I knew his town? No, I hadn’t been there. I asked if he knew Tintaya? No, he didn’t. What about Ariquipa? YES – we had both been to Ariquipa and enjoyed eating the seafood very much. So, it was a small world after all. Had I been to Machu Piccu? No, I hadn’t. Neither had he.
We  both would like to go one day.

As I stood there talking to him in his language, words flowing, we talked of porphyry versus gold. The price of silver and lead. Volcanoes, earthquakes, kayaking eco-tourism, etc. Eventually, the other hydrologists and drillers arrived. I realized there was not one person on the site, in the entire district who I could talk to about mineralization, hard rock geology, porphyries… I was at the bottom of the pecking order and the oldest on this project.

I am working on an environmental analysis for a company that specializes in hydrologic site characterization. I am a fish in water here, a fish who doesn’t want to be in water. I want to be on the Earth looking into the rocks through a hand lens.

Road Fork

A necessary implement

We’re supposed to be drilling but things happen you know. Instead, I bought a hunting/fishing license for Idaho and turned my Toyota PU west. I was in a bit of an emotional state to start. This job has not been going well and bosses are receiving bad news on a minute by minute basis. On top of that, my cabin doesn’t have a kitchen and I was relying on making my meals in large batches.

“STAY OUT OF TROUBLE.” That’s my motto when working remotely. Stay out of jail when I am in town. I learned a short while ago that GOD seems to be in charge of my vehicle — where it goes, how I get there, who-what I meet along the way. He’s got a sense of humor, this benevolent Father. I decided I would not take a road that required locking my hubs and I would top my gas tank.

At the gas station, I was able to cross some needed items off my list in lieu of not having a kitchen:
Paper plates
paper towels

Unfortunately, a large item in my cooler was a huge chicken. I would have to make a fire on a grill probably at a public campground to cook the thing. An important item to prepare for that plan was some sort of cooking fork or spatula to control the thing as it cooked. There were no grilling implement ensembles in the gas station.

I took a road that seemed like I might get into some grouse or doves if I hiked. The afternoon rambled on before my tires and I found birds, a stream with trout and even had an adventure (long story involved saving some trapped motorcyclists who were not prepared for the wet mud after a high country rain storm.)

On my way, of significance in relying on the direction of a higher power let’s call it, I came across this as kind of a token — a promise – to have faith. To believe and let my life unfold under my own direction of positive thoughts and actions. It’s a road fork (spatula really but road fork sounds better) laying in the middle of the road right before I came upon the stranded motorcycle riders. (Yes, I washed it of course.) Later I grilled a beer-can chicken and this all came out just lovely.