Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why Westray Mine trial was stayed

The methane gas explosion at the Westray Mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, Canada on May 9, 1992 caused the death of 26 miners. Mine managers Gerald Philips and Roger Parry were charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death. The mills of justice ground to a halt when the Crown had failed to give full disclosure of all of its exhibits by November 15, 1994.

Mr Duncan R Beveridge, QC, with Beveridge, Lambert & Duncan, called during the summer of 1999 to find out what I knew about sampling and statistics. I pointed to Sampling and Weighing of Bulk Solids, my activities on ISO Technical Committees, and my savvy in solving scams such as the Bre-X fraud. I transmitted a facsimile of my curriculum vitae which was similar to the one currently posted on my website.

I went to work on the Westray file shortly after October 1, 1999. It consisted of twenty–two (22) pages of text and ten (10) schedules marked A to F. I was pleased with the description of how post-explosion samples had been taken. Test results determined by Canmet and other participants in an interlaboratory test program were statistically identical. The Nova Scotia Department of Labour and the RCMP had selected test samples at intervals of 0.9 m in accordance with the Coal Mines Regulations Act. Test results for all test samples proved the average percentage combustible matter to be significantly higher than the maximum allowable limit of 35%. My report is titled Post-Explosion Sampling Procedures at the Westray Mine and was submitted on November 2, 1999.

What piqued my interest was the testimony of Andy Liney, PEng and a former mine manager and ventilation specialist from the United Kingdom. He testified that too few post-explosion samples had been taken to obtain a precise estimate for the average percentage combustible for all locations. Post-explosion samples had been taken at 0.9 m intervals. A statistical analysis of test results in samples taken by the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and the RCMP proved beyond reasonable doubt that the average percentage combustible matter in the underground workings at the Westray mine exceeded the maximum allowable limit of 35%.

Spatial dependence between measured values in ordered sets such as those taken after the explosion at the Westray Mine may or may not exist. As a matter of fact, testing for spatial dependence plays a key role in sampling practices for mined ores and mineral concentrates as defined in ISO Standards. The lead prosecutor was Herman C Felderhof. He knew as much about testing for spatial dependence at the Westray coal mine as did John B Felderhof at the Bre-X phantom gold project.

On-stream analysis of slurries in mineral processing plants became a powerful tool in the 1980s. That’s why I put together Simulation Models for Mineral Processing Plants. It was reviewed by The Metallurgical Society of CIM and published in CIM Bulletin of September 1991. On September 28, 1989 my son and I submitted for review our take on Precision Estimates for Ore Reserves. Here’s what I wrote to the Editor of CIM Publications, “The authors believe that their methodology provides a reliable measure for the risk to encounter less than the predicted grade”. What had troubled Professor Dr Michel David was that we had not only applied “our own method” but had also failed to refer to twenty years of geostatistical literature. Professor Dr A J Sinclair, PEng, PGeo was troubled because he deemed the variance of a general function a bit dated. He has been teaching generations of UBC students all he knows about geostatistics.

Variance of a general function

What I taught at UBC on November 22-24, 1989 was Sampling Precious Metal Deposits: Metrology-A New Look. Professor Dr A J Sinclair, PEng, PGeo welcomed the participants in Room 330A at 8:30AM. He didn’t object to anything I taught nor did he ask any questions. Yet, he had earlier reviewed for CIM Bulletin our take on Precision Estimates for Ore Reserves. His review was dated November 15, 1989. Surely, Emeritus Professor Dr Alastair J Sinclair, PEng, PGeo ought to explain how Gemcom software converted bogus grades and barren rock into Bre-X’s phantom gold resource. APEGBC ought to get a copy as soon as UBC's Emeritus Professor has explained why the variance was stripped off the distance-weighted average AKA kriged estimate!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Professionals pine for public trust

Professional designations are powerful symbols. The public at large tends to trust those who do qualify. Noblesse oblige, bien sur! Here’s what the public ought to know! The current code of ethics does not always protect the public at large. I was aware of this code long before I read the Vancouver Sun of March 1, 2012. Much of it is posted under Correspondence on my website. The National Engineering and Geoscience Month (NEGM) was this year held in Vancouver, BC. Its members have as strong a need to be appreciated and understood as I do! But far too few of its members remember as well as I do how geostatistics converted Bre-X’s bogus grades and Busang’s barren rock into a massive phantom gold resource. Kilborn Engineering Pacific Ltd cooked up Bre-X’s phantom gold resource here in Vancouver, BC. I had given my short course on sampling and statistics at Kilborn’s Office long before Bre-X Minerals got into drilling holes at its gold property in Borneo, Indonesia. It bothered but few professionals that geostatistics as Kilborn knew it in the 1990s morphed into stochastic mine planning at McGill University in 2010s. Among those who couldn’t care less whether or not functions have variances is UBC Emeritus Professor Dr Alastair J Sinclair, PEng. He took a liking to Matheron’s thinking in the 1970s. He has been teaching Matheronian geostatistics to scores of students at the University of British Columbia.

Dr A J Sinclair, PEng, PGeo
Professor Emeritus

Since the 1990s I have explained in rich detail on my website and in my blogs why geostatistics is a scientific fraud. Why then do so many APEG Members ignore one-to-one correspondence between functions and variances? One would expect that sort of scientific fraud to be at variance with APEG’s Code of Ethics. What I want to know most of all is whether or not the properties of variances have ever been a matter of any concern to APEG’s Members. So I tend to ask a lot of questions. Where have degrees of freedom gone? Who lost the Central Limit Theorem? What has happened to unbiased confidence limits for masses of contained metals? Dr Alastair J Sinclair, PEng, PGeo still does not accept one-to-one correspondence between functions and variances. He is still teaching his students all about assuming spatial dependence between measured values in ordered sets, interpolating by kriging, smoothing to perfection, and rigging the rules of applied statistics with impunity.

Assume, krige, smooth and be happy!

Here’s what Mr Tom Sneddon, MSc, PGeol, Manager of Geoscience Affairs, APEGGA Calgary wrote in response to my emessage of March 2, 2012:

“The Vancouver Sun article you refer to was placed by our sister organization, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, but its content applies equally to the practice of geosciences anywhere in Canada as we pledge a common code of ethics and we all play by the same rules of conduct. You are quite right in saying that geologists and geoscientists in Alberta are bound to use only techniques and software that the practitioner is completely familiar with and understands. That is a fundamental rule of professional practice. Further, Alberta geoscientists are mostly industrial practitioners who are pretty pragmatic about what kind of methods they use in exploring for oil, gas and minerals. If a particular body of knowledge or set of techniques or algorithms don’t find dollars, their ultimate objective, they are not going to use those techniques.

As your publications suggest, good science (and by extension applied science) depends on a healthy load of skepticism and debate before an idea or concept can even be conditionally accepted as good professional practice. APEGGA provides one particular platform where ideas are openly and enthusiastically discussed, sometimes at great length: the Readers’ Forum in our bi-monthly magazine, the PEG. If you would like to have your views known and engage in a debate with our over 63,000 members, please send a note to George Lee, The Editor in Chief of the PEG (glee@apegga.org) allowing him to print you letter. Since many of our members use geostatistics as a tool for mineral exploration and development, I look forward to hearing the range of views they will surely express.”

PEG's Editor in Chief wrote: “This is not a debate we’ll get into, for at least three reasons. First, the subject matter is not part of our mandate as a non-technical publication. Second, the complexity of the subject and the need to present both sides, in fairness to UBC and Dr Sinclair, would require a full story, which we don’t have the space or the mandate for. And finally, it’s set in B.C. – our focus is Alberta. Sorry we can’t help you. All the best”.