February 2007

Success in the Rockies

Last October 12 to 14, the CIM Coal and Oil Sands Operators’ Conference, Jasper 2006, brought over 350 delegates together at scenic Jasper Park Lodge. All in attendance agreed it was worth the trip – the technical program was outstanding, and the mining community enjoyed vying with the elk for opportunities to embrace the beauty of the region.

Focusing on today's operations

The one-room technical program was a full house throughout the conference. Technical Program Chair Zoli Lukacs weaved a  comprehensive schedule, covering most major areas of focus for today’s coal and oil sands operations.

The program was kicked off with a session on Global Influences on Local Operations, beginning with an overview of commodity prices and global growth outlook by Patricia Mohr, vice president of economics, Scotia Capital. Once delegates learned the global picture, Brian Hudson, of the Alberta Department of Energy, shared an overview of mineral resource development activity in the province.

Lightening the load a bit, though in no way less informative, Gene Wusaty, president, Coal Division, Ivanhoe Mines, regaled the audience with his personal experiences developing and working a mine in Mongolia.

The next session focused on New Projects – Past Experience and New Directions. Presentations included Chris Yellowega, vice president, upstream operations, Synenco, sharing his approaches to project development, as well as Kevin Mather, general manager, mining, North American Construction, Bill Burton, vice president, operations, Western Canadian Coal, and Randy Daggitt, senior operations manager, Ledcor CMI. With the rate of new project development in Alberta these days, strategic planning and a reliable team are necessities.

The Practical Solutions for Meeting Today’s Growth Challenges session was next. Presenters from Suncor and Keyano College in Fort McMurray shared insights into and experiences with building a successful workforce in today’s climate. Safety remains a primary focus, and astute planning and integration into the day-to-day operations is a necessity, especially at major sites where growth projects are underway alongside production. The oil sands companies have been pioneers in areas of partnering with educational institutions, and such partnerships could be the benchmark for tomorrow’s schools.

The fourth session covered Solutions for Managing Maintenance and Improving Equipment Reliability. The subject of maintenance and repair contracts (MARCs) was discussed in detail. Presenters shared how their mine sites use different strategies for handling equipment maintenance. Dean Jeffrey said Prairie Mines and Royalty Ltd. focuses on detailed planning and applying RCM II; Ian Berzins and Fritz Kruger discussed Albian Sands’ structure of MARCs built with their key suppliers. Neil Bray, of Finning, discussed MARCs from the point of view of the supplier, while Doug Stokes explained that Elk Valley Coal Corporation handles its maintenance in-house, with best practices and a reliability engineering team shared across the five operations.

Operations Challenges and Best Practices was the next session, with a variety of presentations. It kicked off with the extremely challenging situation surrounding the winter ice road from Yellowknife up to EKATI, Diavik, and other mines. Last year weather forced an early closure, and Erik Madsen of Diavik Diamond Mines shared the tale of how they eked out a few extra days from the road, and how the consequences of a short road season were managed. Tires became the next topic with Bob Bennett of Kal Tire discussing supply and management. Other subjects hightlighted include North American Construction Group’s Tom Colbourne’s study of Haul Road Construction, and Masoud Sahebkar, of Elk Valley Coal Corporation, who delved into the challenges of mine operations system integration.

The final technical session of the conference was on Improving Operating Effectiveness through Innovation and Technology. The session provided practical examples of how innovative thinking and incremental changes in technology have been applied in the mining industry. Examples given include the discussion by Michael Fleet, of Letourneau Inc., on large loader application in the oil sands, featuring the clamshell bucket design; Prairie Mines and Royalty Ltd.’s Ashley Wallster’s discussion on technologies in mining; and a focus on rediscovering existing technologies with new application to solve expansion challenges, shared by Lynn Gould of Suncor.

The closing keynote presentation was by Jim Popowich, CIM president elect, on Innovation, Technology, and People in Mining -Yesterday’s Successes, Tomorrow’s Challenges. Popowich suggested the format of the Jasper conference is one that CIM should implement across the country.

Living it up at Jasper 2006

A lively social and guest program helped people get to know one another and enhanced the Jasper experience. The Great Hall of Jasper Park Lodge created an open atmosphere for networking, mingling, and beginning the conference. Several people tried out their operator skills using the Finning simulator during the Welcome Wine and Cheese Reception.

A banquet in the Beauvert dining room proved to be the social highlight of the conference, featuring entertainer Zandra Bell, who kept the audience laughing about the mining industry.

Families were more than welcome at the conference - they were encouraged. A children’s program was an exciting new addition. Jasper the Bear was a hit with youngsters. The educational component included colouring books, rocks and minerals, and amethyst samples, teaching the children about mining. Several emails, letters, and phone calls reinforced the need to continue this program in the future.

The guest program was non-stop. A belly-dancing class was a big hit and even though there were a few blushes behind the veils, it was really something to see. Participants worked up a sweat in such a short time and giggled their way through the awkward moments.

A bus trip to the Columbia Ice Fields was spectacular, including an unlisted detour to Athabasca Falls followed by a trip up to the Snow Cats. Both trips were very exciting and informative and everyone said they would do it again.

A culinary experience was well attended and informative, the only draw-back being that the stove was not properly connected to the power and so things began to back up. The chef was great and provided little tips on cooking that were gobbled up by the audience. The tasting, of course, was the best part as always, and everyone seemed to really like the dishes he prepared.

Jasper Park Lodge Sommelier Rens Bruer offered a guided tour for the senses through the pairing of eight types of white and red wine with a varied selection of foods. A surprise delight was the combination of popcorn and champagne - guaranteed to enhance movie rental nights.

The rest of the guest program was raved about, including a hayride where the squirrels got into the first batch of hot chocolate, a horseback riding trail that was serene, and yoga in the spike room, which presented the ambience required for relaxation.

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