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Contents: A mining world

The board of directors for the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) selected Paul Scheidig as its new executive director and chief operating officer on March 25. Scheidig hails from the Nevada Mining Association, where for the past 11 years he was the director of regulatory and environmental affairs. In an interview with Geotimes, he describes where the mining society stands today.

What is the prognosis for the mining industry?
The prognosis is good and growing stronger within many segments of the industry. The industrial minerals and aggregate sectors are certainly in the forefront of the growth curve. Urban redevelopment and highway constructions — and reconstruction — are on the rise and demanding more from those sectors. Mining engineering graduates from many of the finest schools in the United States are being recruited to fill the growing demands of the industrial and aggregates (sand and gravel) sectors. Coal industry sectors are in a very good position as well. An increase in energy demand is renewing interest in coal and will continue to grow. Base metal sectors are seeing some increases in the price of metals today and, similar to the precious metals industry sectors, have increased production and cost efficiencies to endure periods of low metal prices. Precious metals prices continue to be low but this segment of the minerals industry is more efficient than ever and primed to take advantage of good prices when they emerge again, which will happen in the near future. All in all, the entire outlook is and should be good.
 The Bush administration already is looking at and better defining policies and procedures to ensure that the mineral industry in the United States continues to be strong. SME will assist that effort by being there to provide the best science and technical information available. By better public outreach efforts to decision makers in government and to the voting public, a strong minerals industry will continue and emerge even stronger.

What safety concerns still challenge miners today?
In the past few years both the metal/nonmetal and coal sectors of the industry have seen and experienced unprecedented levels of change, especially in the regulatory arena. New noise, hazardous communication, mine dust, diesel particulate matter, ergonomics and other rules forced on the industry by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have caused the industry to scramble to meet the new standards — without the prospect of seeing positive benefits. Yet, statistically, all industry sectors have extremely good safety records and are more protective of worker health and safety than ever before. Increased attention to health and safety of miners will continue to be the goal of the industry, and SME will be there to ensure that the agencies have the best information possible. The challenge is to change the mindset of the regulatory agencies to better understand the good safety procedures companies now employ and to redirect agencies to work with professionals in SME and elsewhere to find ways to solve safety problems, not just cite companies for potential problems.

What exploration techniques are being developed?
SME’s Mining Engineering magazine has over the years illustrated and promoted new technology in exploration. The issue with exploration today is one of where is it happening, not necessarily how is it happening. Exploration is the future lifeblood of the minerals industry. For coal and industrial and aggregate (stone, sand and gravel) operations the prospects for the future are fairly good, since many deposits have long life spans. For base and precious metal sectors, there is very little exploration being conducted in the United States and moderate efforts ongoing overseas. What is needed is to enhance the outlook of the industry sectors by enhancing the information of the excellent science and technology being employed by all sectors in the minerals industry. If, through SME’s efforts, we can educate this country’s leadership and the public that responsible mining is the norm, then the opportunities for renewed exploration will occur. The United States is still the leading country for opportunities to conduct mineral exploration, and SME’s educational outreach programs will help to ensure that exploration can and will be here and gain strength in the future.

What is the biggest challenge for SME?
SME is challenged by the current economic and social environments of the mining industry to maintain the professional’s excitement and enthusiasm. Membership in the organization needs to increase and prosper. If the poor metals market, low exploration activities, and malaise of belonging to an industry that is not held in high regard by the public continues, then SME’s job of maintaining membership will be made more difficult. We in the minerals industry provide a great service to the planet. Yet the inhabitants have lost sight of our worth and the great scientific and technical strides made. SME can and does tell that story well and will continue to excite and draw others, which should include all earth scientists, into its membership.

Excellence in science journalism

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) announced the winners of its 2001 journalism awards on April 10. Glennda Chui, science writer for the San Jose Mercury-News, won the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Writing of a news article, and Richard Stone won the Walter Sullivan award for Excellence in Science Writing of a feature story.

Chui’s article, “Acid Mountain,” was published March 28, 2000, and described pond water registering pH -3.6 — the first confirmed negative pH reading of water outside of a laboratory. U.S. Geological Survey scientists and Canadian colleagues discovered the pond deep inside a mine at Iron Mountain, near Redding, Calif. Miners there had extracted over a billion dollars in minerals over the years and left water acidic enough to dissolve a shovel blade. Chui described both the chemical processes that make the water so acidic and the societal impact of acidic runoff from the mountain.

Richard Stone won for his freelance story: “Vostok: looking for life beneath an Antarctic glacier,” published in the July 2000 Smithsonian magazine. Stone learned as much about the scientists’ own struggles as he did about their research. For two weeks in the Antarctic fall, after the sun had set for the last time until spring, the scientists had managed to survive after a fire at the station killed one of their colleagues and knocked out their central heating, they told Stone. When he arrived in the summer of 1997, Stone found a Russian scientist sitting in a lawn chair outside in a T-shirt. “I couldn’t believe it,” Stone says. “It was a bright sunny day, but the temperature at the station was around negative 40."  The scientist was just "getting some sun."

The AGU science journalism awards are named for David Perlman, science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the late Walter Sullivan, science writer for The New York Times.  Each winner recieves a plaque and $2,000.

SIPES sees shades of auburn

The Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists (SIPES) elected Deborah Sacrey, owner and president of Auburn Energy, as its first woman president in the organization’s 39-year history. Sacrey has been a member of the society since 1983 and for the last two years served as president of the nonprofit SIPES Foundation, which is responsible for educating SIPES members and selecting the foundation’s 10 scholarship winners every year. As president of the organization, Sacrey will oversee 12 national committees and ensure that communication between those committees and SIPES members is operating smoothly.

Women make up 3 percent of the organization’s 1,300 members. “I endeavor to change the image of what people think about SIPES,” Sacrey says. Like other earth science societies, SIPES has an aging membership, but Sacrey sees that as an advantage. “We’re experienced,” she says. For people leaving the workforce to start careers as independent geoscience consultants, “SIPES is where they can network and find out who has leads.”

This summer, SIPES and the Houston Geological Society will co-sponsor the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Prospect and Property Expo, Aug. 27-29. “So everyone can come down to Houston when it’s steaming hot,” Sacrey says. She hopes the event will draw international exposure for SIPES and give companies the opportunity to explore other geologic areas for drilling.

Associate Editor Christina Reed compiles Society Page.

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