Thinking Above the Line

  • June 26, 2020

Okane Consultants mine closure

Thinking Above the Line

Lately there is so much information available to us, it can be difficult to know what to listen to. Especially now in the current crisis, a lot of anxiety can be developed due to false perceptions, fears or uncertainty. This reminds me a lot of a facilitation process we use when applying Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) for closure planning. Often, closure planning meetings are filled with lengthy discussions around what people believe to be true or debates about missing information, or the veracity of information. Frequently these debates become a distraction, and the meeting spirals. This creates conflict or disinterest, and never results in an accurate picture of the risks or the appropriate mitigations. Other times people get distracted, making false assumptions about the desired state of the returning land use instead of asking the right questions. Ever heard a story about the perfect wet cover design…except the local community and stakeholders were expecting a terrestrial landform , not a lake! Let’s not forget about the closure planning teams that end up doing study after expensive study just because they didn’t frame the desired outcomes and alternatives properly to start with.

Taking the time to set up for closure planning risk assessments is critical. Our team develop detailed fact sheets (Just the Facts Ma’am!), establish key closure objectives, landform specific objectives and criteria, while working with our clients and their stakeholders to understand the specific site risk tolerances and the desired returning land use. Then, once site specifics are fully understood, conceptual landform and cover system designs can be proposed. This ensures all the alternatives can be evaluated against the same criteria and risk quantifiers, and the optimized solution can be selected; an optimized solution based on informed risk-based decisions.

The benefits of this process are not just the reduction of time spend in frustrating meetings or the costs savings of avoiding inapplicable studies. This process can be repeated at every stage of the mine life cycle to ensure that a closure plan, if even conceptual, is not only technically the best option, but also cost-effective, implementable (you better be able to build it!) and meets expectations of all stakeholders. As the mine life evolves you can revisit and update the original fact sheets, see the impacts to the original risk assessments, and adjust the mitigations in a structured and deliberate fashion. The potential failure modes live through time. We call this “thinking above the line”.

It is the same type of thinking we’re calling for from our leaders in crisis. Check your assumptions, fears and preconceived notions at the at the door. Establish the facts, ask the right questions, and make decisions confidently on what we know to be true; what is so. When you get new information, reevaluate the risks and take the right steps to mitigate. Not unlike closure planning, we have an opportunity here to leave a positive long-term legacy.

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