An open dialogue about site closure
We talked to two of our new Principal Engineers, Philippe Garneau (Brisbane) and Daniel Dohle (Melbourne), about the evolution of their careers in site closure and land rehabilitation.
– DANIEL DOHLE, PRINCIPAL ENGINEER
– PHILIPPE GARNEAU, PRINCIPAL ENGINEER
How did you begin a career in closure?
Daniel: I am from Germany and studied waste and environmental engineering at Aachen University, North Rhine-Westphalia. My studies included a half-year internship in Chile and a nine-month term in Australia at the University of Wollongong, where I discovered a preference for a career in dirt over machinery.
Philippe: I am French Canadian and graduated as an engineer at McGill University in Montreal. I began studying materials engineering, but once I realised that most work would be in processing plants, I switched to mining in the second semester.
– DANIEL DOHLE, Hiking in Switzerland with family (2022)
– PHILIPPE GARNEAU, Holiday in Canada with family (2023)
Was there an early-career-defining project for you?
Philippe: One of my first projects was with Xstrata Nickel as a mine water management engineer based near the Arctic in Northern Quebec. It’s a very ‘moon-like’ landscape, with lows of -50 and -60 degrees. I worked on reclamation and closure designs for mine waste and tailings storage facilities for four years on a FIFO roster. It was my first experience working with local First Nations communities, and it highlighted the importance of inclusion and social consideration in asset transition projects.
Daniel: In Europe, most landfills are closed, whereas Australia has large open landfills for coal ash, tailings and municipal waste. An early-career project was the Pasminco Smelter at Cockle Creek, NSW, designing a containment cell and capping to develop surrounding land for commercial and residential use. I found large industrial and mining sites fascinating back then and still do.
What caused you to make a career in Australia?
Daniel: I studied in Australia in 2002-2003 and completed a Thesis in Environmental Engineering. Then, I returned to Germany to finish my degree. I decided to continue working on the projects available in Australia – with the added incentive of living with my now wife, whom I had met at Uni Wollongong. Twenty years later, I’m still here, having worked for Golder Associates (now WSP) for most of that time in landfill, containment cell and tailings storage facility design. My partner and I have three kids under twelve whom we took to Germany last year to see my childhood home and to go hiking in Switzerland. I am an amateur astronomer and have spent many nights next to my telescope admiring the southern stars.
Philippe: I’ve been lucky to work in many countries early in my career, such as the UK, Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia. In 2013, I was approached to work for Okane based in Brisbane, and the idea of a warmer climate was very appealing. So, we packed up our two young daughters and headed down under. We’ve been here ten years and added a son to the mix. We’re an active family and will venture to Noosa or Coolangatta for a day at the beach or hiking (between all the kids’ sports commitments). My partner and I are Vespa enthusiasts and love to get out and about on those whenever possible.
– DANIEL DOHLE, CPT drilling investigation, Western Australia
Why did you decide to work at ATC Williams?
Philippe: The opportunity at ATCW arrived at the right time to share my skills and knowledge. Ten years ago, when I would say, “I do closure”, the usual response would be, “You can’t make a career out of that.” Now, closure and rehab are at the forefront of mining sector work, and greenfield projects are thinking about post-closure land use and rehab right off the bat. I’ve enjoyed the variety of work in my three months here. I’ve worked on a tin mine waste storage facility design in northern NSW, landform and cover system designs for a few coal and copper mines in Queensland and working on a sitewide water balance project for a gold mine in New Zealand.
Daniel: After almost 19 years at Golder, I decided it was the right time to do something new. I’m keen to learn more about geotechnical engineering, and ATCW is exceptional in this field. I’ve discovered that the culture here is about having a go, and the team is always ready to pause and explain. I also enjoy mentoring junior engineers in the projects I’m leading. We recently did a benchmarking study on the lining requirements for spodumene tailings (lithium ore). Essentially, do lithium tailings storage facilities need linings? We concluded that it depends on site conditions and location in relation to groundwater and proximity to receptors, among other parameters. EPA requirements vary between countries and states. Our team delivered the draft report with a two-week turnaround for the client.
– PHILIPPE GARNEAU, Laos Mine Site Rehabilitation Project
Tell us about the types of site rehabilitation you’ve worked on
Daniel: Industrial and landfill sites tend to be near urban areas, so I’ve seen many housing and commercial development projects built on or around rehabilitated land to monetise it as quickly as possible. These sites are more straightforward to monetise than many mining-related projects.
It is always worth understanding the requirements for rehabilitation to avoid under or over-design. Terms such as ‘visually pleasing’ and ‘non-polluting’ are very open to interpretation and are good to question further with clients and regulators. For example, I was working on an ash landfill project that was previously classified as a dam and had strict seismic and flood design requirements. Upon investigation, we realised the ash was no longer susceptible to liquefaction, meaning the facility was no longer classified as a dam. This meant we could design to a less costly standard for the client.
Philippe: I worked in Laos as an environmental and mine closure specialist for four years. The mine site is embedded in the community, and many people worked and lived on the mine ridge, so some relocation was required. The surrounding lands are dedicated to farming, and the closure has included using the land to grow pineapple, coffee and vegetables. We also planted acacia and eucalypt seeds straight into the waste rock, creating a small forest.
There have been several innovative post-closure projects in the industry. A pumped hydro project set into pit voids using solar energy in the daytime and producing hydro-power at night. Another site was utilised for a fish farm with the added ability to control water levels, making it very popular for fishing competitions. A brownfield project in Slovakia was proposing to reuse the former pit-void including adits dating back to Roman times – that one is still in development.
What is your hope for the future of site closure and rehab?
Philippe: Unfortunately, failure to meet closure objectives is still a reality we must work on as an industry. With Greenfield sites, we need to arrive at the table with better community consultation and stakeholder engagement from the beginning. Our industry is excellent at sharing learning, and there is a global movement of awareness now that is encouraging. I’m confident we will continue integrating and implementing knowledge as we strive to develop better solutions.
Daniel: I would like to see a more thought-out, risk-based approach in the industry. Too often, people head off in a direction without thinking about the final goalpost. There also needs to be consideration of the long-term cost of saving money today. To that end, long-term risks can be estimated using probabilistic methods, which I have done as an expert witness in the past. The role of consultants is to ask the right questions, present a broader scope of options and provide pathways for better assessment. After all, if land is closed to a higher standard, it will increase the value for both the client and the community.
You can follow Phillippe on Linkedin here
You can follow Daniel on Linkedin here