A few random thoughts about those who are the peer reviewers for mines of the geotechnical structures that mines build, including the tailings impoundment, the waste rock dump, andthe heap leach pad.

Failure or malfunction of a geotechnical structure at a mine could lead to the closure of the mine, the bankruptcy of its owners, and complete loss of the value of its shares. Past failures of mine tailings impoundments, waste rock dumps, and heap leach pad have detrimentally affected the environment and in many cases caused great loss of life.

For example, at the Bellavista Mine in Costa Rica, movement of the foundation soils beneath the heap leach pad lead to failure of the pad, closure of the mine, dissolution of the operating company, and finally a massive class action law suite. Liability will not be settled finally for many years yet.

No mine and no mining company can bide the malfunction or failure of any of their geotechnical structures. The best—and possibly the only—way to avoid unwanted failure is to appoint and insist on regular meetings of a geotechnical peer review committee. All of the Alberta oil sands mines have active geotechnical peer review committees. While environmentalists may quibble about environmental impacts, the fact remains that in over fifty years of operation there has been no significant malfunction or failure of an oil sands mine geotechnical structure. I submit this is at least in part the result of active peer review.

Thus it follows, in my opinion, that the miner and/or operator of every mine should appoint and pay the outrageous costs associated with a geotechnical peer review group. This is necessary, I opine, both for their own liability control and for protection of human health and the environment.

I have worked as a peer reviewer; I have been peer reviewed. As a peer reviewer of a design your first duty is to make sure the design is in accordance with current best practice. You need to ask if a reasonable and responsible design process has been followed. You need to ask if the resulting design is practical, can be cost-effectively constructed, will operate as required, and most important will remain safe and not negatively impact human health or the environment.

If you are saddled with peer reviewers of your design you need to provide them with sufficient and relevant documentation to enable them to fully evaluate and judge your design. Having the concurrence of your peer reviewers is essential to professional liability control and, I submit, plain old good, common sense engineering.

If you do blunder and the peer reviewer uncovers your blunder, the best advice I can give is this advice from Terzaghi:

"Engineering is a noble sport….but occasional blundering is a part of the game. Let it be your ambition to be the first one to discover and announce your blunders….Once you begin to feel tempted to deny your blunders in the face of reasonable evidence you have ceased to be a good sport. You are already a crank or grouch."