Technology Review


Peer Review







Giant Mine / Mine Giant


The Giant Mine

Yellowknife, Canada













Revision: 28 June 2006

Author: Jack Caldwell


Peer Review

Peer review is the simple act of an individual or group that knows a lot about the subject, reviewing the work product of another individual or group.    Peer review may be informal or formal; rapid or prolonged; on-time or regularly repeated.  Wikipedia has a long article (well worth reading) on peer review of scholarly journal articles.  I am not dealing with that type of peer review in this piece; here I concentrate on the peer reviewer or reviewers paid to look at work products or practices in the mining industry. 


The following are essentials of peer review:

·       The Peer Reviewers should be independent of the peer reviewed.

·       The Peer Reviewers should know as much as or more than the peer reviewed about the work being reviewed.

·       The Peer Reviewers should have no stake in the outcome of their recommendations. 


The peer reviewers may come from the same company as the peer reviewed as long as they report up the chain-of-command to somebody with more authority than the highest ranking member of the peer reviewed group.   Peer reviewers may be outsiders assembled only for the review at hand.  Written procedures and a scope for the peer reviewers should be established before they begin their work.  And preferably they should provide a written report on their review.


Personally I would rather be peer reviewed than peer review.  It is difficult to review work.  At one level the peer reviewer degenerates into a simple word editor who quibbles about the location of the comma.  At another level, the peer reviewer becomes the lazy buffoon who simply demands that all the important stuff be “brought up front”.  I have had to deal delicately with the peer reviewer who read only Section 5 and then complained that we did not adequately explain information provided in Section 4.  Another peer reviewer on my little list is the one who starts reading the document the night before it is due to be issued.  



The most  comprehensive peer reviews are those to which I was subjected when compiling large proposals for a national engineering company.  They would bring in a team of peer reviewers, lock them in a luxury hotel, and only let them out when they had formulated recommendations.  We inevitably won the job when the peer reviewers were good.


What Peer Review is Not

Peer reviewers tend to be selected from the ranks of the old and experienced.  Thus most peer reviewers overstep the bounds of their mandate.  The temptation to throw around your weight & knowledge is irresistible for some.  Thus let us take a look at what Peer Review is and is not. 


Peer review is undertaken to ensure and enhance the adequacy, completeness, consistency, accuracy, and quality of program and project work products.  Peer review is not the routine checking of a work product.  It is not the simple review of a document by a reviewer, even if the checker is at or above the author’s peer level.  It is not the auditing of a project to check compliance with standard operating procedures.  It is not Value Engineering which is really an attempt to find ways to reduce costs. 


A Peer Review has a specific purpose, scope, format, and duration.  This differentiates it form other review that may be performed on a regular basis and as part of the preparation of quality deliverables.  A Peer Review is commissioned; it has a formal beginning; it produces a report; and it is formally decommissioned. 


In particular, I repeat, Peer Review is not Value Engineering.  Here is a summary of the two that neatly distinguishes them.


Use Value Engineering to:

  • Get new ideas
  • Compare and rank alternatives
  • Involve all staff levels.


Use Peer Review to:

  • Examine the soundness of ideas
  • Elicit senior, specialist input
  • Identify better approaches or procedures


What of Independent Audit?  Is this peer review?  You decide on the basis of these points:

  • Technical Audit is as essential for the control of liability arising from failure as Financial Audit is essential for the financial control and good stewardship of companies.
  • Technical Review provides opportunities for the optimization of plans and the minimization of liability risks.
  • Review by Independent Specialists with appropriate expertise and broad experience, ensures objectivity, application of “international standards’, and state-of-the-art technology and approaches.


Some Guidelines for Good Peer Review

Here is a list of some questions a good peer reviewer should ask and answer:

  • Have the governing laws, rules, and regulations been identifies and provided for?
  • Have qualified staff been involve in all aspects of the work?
  • Are appropriate procedures, models, methods, analyses, and test being use?
  • Is the solution identified and adopted reasonable, practical, and cost effective?
  • De the deliverables comply with the client’s needs. Specifications and stated requirements?
  • Would it be appropriate to have other experts review all or selected aspects of the project?


A Success Story

There must be book in the story of the advances and successes of mine geotechnics at the Syncrude property in Alberta.  I refer to a 1998 paper recently posted into the InfoMine library by kind permission of BiTech’s Geotechnical News.  The Paper is Celebrating 25 Years,  Syncrude’s Geotechnical Review Board by Gord McKenna.  The story the paper tells is so instructive that I cannot resist posting the paper and writing about it here.  To encourage you to refer to the full paper, here is a partial list of some of the geotechnical issues the mine has faced and solved.


  • Dam construction on muskeg foundations
  • Spillway construction and maintenance on weak valley slopes
  • Heavy foundations on gassy and temperature sensitive soils
  • Trafficability of heavy equipment on oil sands
  • Depressurization of waters and aquifers
  • Winter construction of water-retaining embankments
  • Frost effects of foundations and stockpiles
  • Short-term and long-term excavations into clay shale slopes
  • Empirical highwall monitoring for draglines
  • Progressive failure of clay and sands
  • Highwall failure due to gas and bulging
  • Pit floor heave
  • Long-term stability of reclaimed landscapes.


Most of the paper is about the peer review board that has advised the mine for over 25 years.  This in itself is a monument to progressive mining.  And maybe one day the story will be brought up to date and the totality of the geotechnical success collated into a single volume.  For now, see the paper and other writings in InfoMine on Oil Sands. 


Very Short Case Histories

Giant Mine

SRK produced a report, and an Independent Peer Review Panel peer reviewed it and issued their main report and summary report.  The topic is arsenic trioxide at the Giant Mine, Yellowknife.  The topic is obtuse, the issues contentious, and no doubt very political, so all we need do here is recommend this as a good case history of peer review in the mining context.  Sadly the original report is not available electronically, but there is lots of background information of the government website.


Giant Mine / Mine Giant


Mine Doyon

The south waste rock dump at Mine Doyon, Cadillac, Québec has been generating acidic drainage since 1985, two years after the dump was started. Acid generation increased steadily from 1985 to 1988 and since 1988 the dump has been generating strong acidic drainage which is presently collected and treated with lime. The MEND Prediction Committee arranged for a peer review of the studies carried out at the south dump by a designated group of expert consultants (Peer Review Team). The peer review was carried out under five separate technical components identified as (i) hydrology, (ii) geotechnology and hydrogeology, (iii) geochemistry and mineralogy, (iv) microbiology and (v) predictive modeling.   The overall conclusion of the peer review is that the Mine Doyon study provided a new understanding of some specific technical issues and represents a thorough and exceptionally well documented case study. The peer review also identified a number of inconsistencies and occasional technical errors in the reports.

AJ Mine

A sad tale of incompetence and misuse of review and peer review surrounds the AJ Mine near Juneau, Alaska.  Again no doubt very political—this made an EPA report on abuses of peer review, so take a look at page 24 of the report. 

Martha Mine

Newmont describes the development of the open pit at the Martha Mine, New Zealand.  At the end of an informative description is this statement:  An independent peer review panel comprising experts in the fields of geotechnical engineering, hydrogeology and rehabilitation carries out inspections, reviews data and reports to the regulatory agencies.”




A Long Case History

Serendipity and the power of Google threw this report up as I searches for something quite different.  I refer to the “Tailings Dam Review Board Report No  2, Marlin Project, Guatemala (March 2005).”


Construction of the impoundment is well under way, so I was intrigued by this statement:

“The model has demonstrated the ability to store the first two years of tailing and process affected water, and the rate and duration of discharge in subsequent years is estimated.  Load balance calculations, based on conservative behavior of effluent constituents , have been used to explore potential contaminant concentrations in release waters in the absence of water treatment.  It is intended that the release of water from the impoundment will be regulated to match stream flow in the receiving environment, such that concentration in the receiving water is below levels of concern.  It is understood that MEG are currently in discussion with Guatemala regulatory authorities to establish suitable downstream water quality objectives and discharge criteria.  MEG have committed to achieving international standards of water quality in the downstream receiving streams.” 


In a report “Assessment of a complaint submitted to CAO in relation to the Marlin Ming Project in Guatemala (September 2005)” from the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, I found this statement: 

“Based on the current design and operational procedures of the project, the people of Sipacapa will not be at significant risk from any contamination to waterways as a result of the project….The CAO finds that the IFC’s required independent review of the Tailings Storage Facility, which includes the tailings dam, has adequately assessed the risks of the dam….The CAO believes that water quality issues can be readily addresses through additional assessments of water users, establishment of water quality standards, improved management plan implementation, establishment of provisions for mine closure, enhanced communication, and effective independent and participatory monitoring.” 

Trucks and Sheep



From a December 2005 press release: 

“Glamis Gold announced that its Marlin Mine in Guatemala has commenced commercial production, remaining on track to produce 20,000 ounces of gold in 2005. Marlin is expected to produce approximately 250,000 ounces of gold and 3.5 million ounces of silver in 2006. The mill has a throughput capacity of 220 tonnes per hour and gold recoveries are currently 90%. Underground operations are proceeding on three development levels in preparation for significant contributions from underground production by mid-2006.”


In a letter to the Senior Ombudsman from Glamis Gold (May 2006), James Schenck, Manager for Sustainable Development Guatemala, writes “Significant recommendations made in the earlier CAO review have been initiated or are already underway.  One that we feel is important for both Marlin Mine and our neighbors is that of additional research on water.  We have contracted the water studies and the data collection is beginning this month.  Another important activity is that an independent community-based water monitoring association has been taking on-site water samples and we have been meeting with them to discuss and analyze results.” 


In full disclosure, Andy Robertson is a very old friend and I have worked with and for him for over twenty-five years.  He did not point me to the link or guide my idiosyncratic writing. 


Hoek on Review Boards

The following is a quote from a three-page document that crossed my desk recently:

A Review Board is highly desirable for major civil and mining engineering projects.  Those working on such a project can often become so involved in the details of the work that they find it difficult to stand back and take an impartial view of alternative approaches.  The Review Board, with its requirement to be impartial and its years of practical experience on similar projects, can usually pin-point problems and possible solutions very quickly.  Once these problems have been brought to the attention of the geotechnical team, it is surprising how often an effective solution can be found.  Even in cases where a highly competent geotechnical team exists, an occasional independent review can provide the Mine Manager with the assurance that all is in order.


The author of these words is Evert Hoek.  The paper on my deck notes that he is adapting from a paper entitled “Consulting Boards for Large Civil Engineering Projects” that he wrote with Alan S. Imrie and published in International Water Power and Dam Engineering (No dates provided). 


Hoek continues:  A Review Board should be composed of a small number of internationally recognized authorities in fields relevant to the principal problems encountered on the mine.  The purpose of the Board should be to provide an objective, balanced and impartial view of the overall geotechnical activities on a mine.  The Board should not be used as a substitute for normal consulting services since members do not have time to acquire all the detailed knowledge necessary to provide direct consulting opinions.  


The use of peer reviewers from outside of the organization seems to be gaining favor based on the travel schedule of some of my friends who seem to visiting South America to participate in yet another review board meeting.  The construction of ever-larger tailings impoundment reaching unprecedented heights in areas prone to earthquakes is perhaps a reason for the interest in review boards.  Peer review of large dam design and construction is as old as my tenure in civil engineering—nothing new there, but the use of outside peer reviewers in mining has undoubtedly to meet critical mass as a practice in the mining industry.  There are some commenters who believe that independent peer review is the only way for the mining industry to maintain reputations with regulators and the public in general as we move into ever more areas not yet the site of productive and accepted mines.


Tailings Impoundment Peer Review

In a recent presentation Safety Audit & Risk Management of Tailings Dams (accessible here) are the following interesting points about peer review in the design and construction of tailings impoundments.

  • Technical Audit is as essential, for the control of liability arising from failure of tailings impoundments, as Financial Audit is essential for the financial control and good stewardship of companies.
  • Technical Review of tailings impoundment design, operation, and closure provides opportunities for the optimization of plans and the minimization of liability risks.
  • Review by independent specialists, with appropriate expertise and broad experience, ensures objectivity, application of 'international standards' and state-of-the-art technology and approaches.

  • Audits and reviews are typically completed by professional specialists and consist of:
    • Information collection, review and analysis of all site investigation (geotechnical, hydrology, hydrogeology, geochemistry, environmental and socio-economic), design and 'as-built' plans and reports;
    • Field inspection of the sites and structures;
    • Review of the operating history and compliance of the structure/facility, operating plans, management systems, emergency response plans and closure plans;
    • Identification of the relevant risks for each of the structures;
    • Completion of an FMEA for the structure/facility;
    • Development of recommendations to mitigate the risks and address issues identified;
    • Prioritization of the mitigation measures into a 'Risk Management Plan';
    • Preparation of a report summarizing the work and preparation of a Plan; and
    • Follow-up on execution of Plan
  • Audit and review should commence early, during initial project planning, selection of design engineers, definition of design, operating and closure objectives and establishment of contact workscopes.
  • Audit and review should be maintained through all stages of design, construction, operation, closure and, if necessary, post closure monitoring.
  • Audit and review should be independent to ensure objectivity and avoid conflict of interest concerns from stakeholders.
  • A review board of one to three specialists are usually required. A small review board should be permitted to consult with specialists for technical support.
  • Audit and review costs are small by comparison with liability risk reductions
  • There are different types and levels of review, viz:
    • Audit Level: Independent checking of all sources of key information and calculations
    • Review Level: Checks for reasonableness on information and calculations - optimization recommendations
    • Discussion Level: Review and discussion of only some key topics and design elements
    • Interim Reviews: Conducted between more formal regularly spaced reviews, during periods when there is rapid change in the designs or construction of major geotechnical structures.