Samantha Espley, currently President of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), has recently joined engineering firm BESTECH as their VP, Mining Transformation. In her new role, Samantha will be afforded the opportunity to continue to advocate for the industry and promote diversity in mining careers while working with BESTECH’s team of industry-respected, highly talented, innovative personnel.
One of the key ways in which Ms. Espley will apply her extensive background in mining and leverage the BESTECH team’s unique approach to solving challenges and providing value to their clients will be in spearheading a new initiative called The Whole Mine™. In short, The Whole Mine™ concept is a culmination of Ms. Espley’s experience and training, and an aspirational vision of potential for the mining industry.
“There has never been a better time to take step back, survey the big picture, apply new, unique approaches, and truly look at The Whole Mine™ as a completely interconnected system with dependencies from start to finish,” says Ms. Espley.
To fully understand how and why this concept is at once hopeful and practical, it is helpful to have some history on the person leading the charge.
Samantha Espley’s first job in the industry was with Denison in New Brunswick, where as a young engineer in training she learned a great deal about the milling process for potash, but was also given the opportunity to participate in their great mine rescue team, where she learned how much attention is paid to safety in mining. From there, she worked at Dome and Falconbridge gold mines in Northern Quebec, giving her a love of small, mining communities, as well as exposure to new mine designs and the burgeoning use of computers and new mining software suites.
It was there that geotechnical and geo-mechanical engineering became a passion, and Samantha began to truly understand the geology and the role it plays in stability, and was exposed to the idea that technology could provide safer solutions – better drilling and blasting, better backfill, lighting, communication systems, automation and remote control, equipment, etc.
“I was fortunate as a young mining professional to be exposed to such a high degree of technological innovation early in my career. It shaped my future and work within the industry from there,” states Ms. Espley.
Also during that time, Samantha was the recipient of mentorship and friendships with women in the industry, but recognized that being a woman in mining still was not common. With a father and uncle who were in mining and encouraged her from the beginning – Espley affirms that she was an advocate for mining by the time she was 12 – she also became an advocate for women in mining early in her career, and has worked tirelessly to improve the representation of women and other minority groups in and industry that she is proud to see taking bigger steps forward, with more role models for young girls who may be interested in careers in mining.
This too is part of the Whole Mine concept – to ensure mining is reflective of society at large, and provides opportunity to people of every stripe, allowing mining to leverage the intelligence, wisdom, and strength of people of any background, gender, ethnicity, or orientation. The people, and the communities in which they live, will play a more important role than ever in mining’s future.
From an innovation in engineering and mining standpoint, Samantha’s experience of having been on the ground floor of innovation in technology provides her the experience and understanding of the path forward, integrating and pivoting as new technologies become available. Samantha has also worked extensively in research, partnering and learning from technology providers, governments, academics, front line workers, and management.
“Beyond the implementation of new technology is the understanding of the change management and culture that supports change, and also the need for sustained sponsorship of innovation and change at senior levels. It is knowing and anticipating the cyclical ups and downs and external pressures,” says Ms. Espley. “From there, we can create technology roadmaps, working with mining companies to create a vision of the possibilities from top to bottom, with all stakeholders.”
The Whole Mine™ is about developing solutions that fit the future vision for any mining operation. It is questioning and anticipating what innovations can be included in an operation today, and for tomorrow, so it is sustainable, safe, and has engineered the hazards out. The Whole Mine™ ensures the vision that is inclusive of the mine, the processing, the market, the supply chain, communities and governments, and more equitable and inspiring solutions. This requires both industry and community support.
Part of Samantha Espley’s passion for mining is what it brings to communities in the north, and coast to coast across Canada. But as she asserts, steady, incremental improvements are no longer enough. Mining companies must move toward much more inspiring visions of the future, as responsible, safe and sustainable operations. This means adopting, transforming and leveraging new solutions and rapidly moving toward the new goals as a community and industry.
According to Ms. Espley, community involvement is a huge opportunity – and risk. Having the communities in which mining activities are planned to take on board with any new project is critical. Working together on impact benefit agreements, have solutions that will benefit the community as much as the mining company, sharing the wealth, and understanding what they have to offer each other is part and parcel of the future. The requirements of the community and the company can be included in the design of a new mine from the beginning – ensuring mining is part of the solution, addressing what can be done differently, how reclaiming can happen as mining goes, reducing the footprint, etc. This is part of the license to operate, and the sharing of risk.
Samantha stresses the importance of bringing all the stakeholders to the table to arrive at sustainable solutions that are a benefit to all. In her vision of The Whole Mine™, it is possible to demonstrate to the community that a mine is going to be engineered to be more efficient and sustainable.
“Companies are putting this forward as an imperative strategic objective, and license to operate is truly one of the greatest risks. Can the mining companies have the communities behind them, and what is required? Public consultation, communications, awareness, transparency, how and when are things happening, what the effects will be, what people can expect, and ensuring they understand the benefits. This is just as important as the mining cycle. The same holistic vision we take to make step changes that improve operations and productivity must be applied to what happens outside the mine as well,” says Ms. Espley.
She does assert a firmly held belief, the results of hundreds of conversations with mining executives, influencers, and industry leaders, that there is a genuine desire to connect with the community, to have safe, environmentally friendly solutions, to bring new technologies to the table, and to have employees who will embrace and adopt new technologies and solutions.
“Inspired leadership and vision for the future, examining what is possible to achieve results that are greater than incremental gains. Under The Whole Mine™ concept, the solutions we are seeking fit a longer-term vision and leverages and engages a wide spectrum of stakeholders, to benefit all. From mines to communities, there is a wider set of goals and higher-level thinking needed, and I know there is an appetite at the senior levels in this industry, and the up and coming thought leaders, to ensure it happens,” concludes Ms. Espley
As BESTECH’s VP, Mining Transformation, Samantha Espley is perfectly positioned to share The Whole Mine™ concept, and use her influence to make it a movement to carry mining into a bright future for all.