September 13th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 37
New mine manager arrives in Pass
Q&A with the man who will lead the Grassy Mountain Coal Project
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna Kroupina Photo
As general manager, Alisdair Gibbons is responsible for every aspect of running the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, from overseeing construction and hiring to ensuring day-to-day operations are met.
Pass Herald Reporter
With their permitting process almost at a close, Benga Mining Ltd., a 100% subsidiary of Riversdale Resources Limited, is gearing up for soon-to-start construction and eventual production for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project. They’ve brought in the head honcho who will lead the mine into its life stage, Aussie, Alisdair Gibbons. Alisdair, his wife, and their two teenage daughters moved to Crowsnest Pass at the end of June.

This won’t be the first time Alisdair builds and runs a mine from scratch. He was involved in the start-up of Landau Colliery in South Africa, the expansion and upgrade project of Capcoal in Australia and, prior to taking the position with Riversdale, was general manager of BHP’s Caval Ridge in Australia.

He completed a BSc in Mining Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and worked for a South African gold operation straight out of school. He has since worked in and managed both open pit and underground operations in South Africa, Colombia and Australia.

Q: What is your experience in mining?

A: I’ve been in mining for 35 odd years. I finished school when I was 17 and got my first job working in a deep shaft gold mine. Since that time I’ve been all over the world. I started off in South Africa in gold and then coal and worked in both underground and open pit operations. From there I went to Colombia for six years and then on to Australia where we lived for 12 years. That brings us to present day and our move to Canada.
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Q: What attracted you to the mining industry?

A: My father was an accountant in the mines. Growing up, we always moved around. This is the 5th continent and 9th country I’ve lived in. I finished off my last year of schooling in South Africa, a very mineral resource-rich country, and that’s when I started in the mining industry. I was exposed to mining in my formative years in one form or another and saw the opportunity it provided to live all over the world.

Q: Why did you decide to take this job with Riversdale

A: The first reason I took this role is because I was previously in a FIFO role; a fly in/fly out role. My job with Riversdale is a residential role, so I get to see my family every day. The second reason is we’ve always wanted to live in Canada, and the third is the opportunity to start up a new mine. This will be the third one that I’ve started up and it’s something that I really enjoy doing.

Q: What does building and running a mine entail?

A: It’s a very broad scope. There’s a whole series of things that you have to look at, from constructing the mine, hiring and training a new workforce, sourcing materials, hiring contractors, building a corporate culture, gender diversity, developing safety programs and so on. It’s like building a house. You create the plans, figure out how you want to design it, and then you get someone to build it and then you do the interior design.

Q: What stage is the process in right now?

A: The team at Riversdale have done a tremendous job in getting the project to where it is today. We’re still working on the permitting, which we’ve been focusing on last year and most of this year. We’re getting to the final stages which we expect to culminate in a federal and provincial hearing. This last phase could last until the back end of next year or early 2019. Once we get the permitting, we aim to start construction in early 2019, which will last 21 months. In parallel to that we will start the operations up in Q3 2020.
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Q: How is the Grassy Mountain Coal Project different from the other mines you have started up?

A: Mining is mining, so it’s not going to be fundamentally different. What makes Grassy slightly more challenging is that it’s a very narrow steeply dipping deposit. It’s about 6 km long and about 1.75 km wide which poses a challenge purely because of its geology and width. My last project, Caval Ridge, was a very long flat strip mine, 20km long and about 5 to 6 km wide. The Australian topography is also very open and flat, so we had a lot of space to work with during construction. In contrast, Grassy is a fairly confined space. Other than that, it’ll be business as usual. It’s more from a cultural view, what do we want it to be?

Q: What do you mean by “cultural view”?

A: One of my old friends says, “It’s about what you smell when you go into it.” If you went into an office block and there were papers all over the desks and dirty cutlery in the sink, you would have a strong idea of what the culture of the place is like. That’s versus walking into an office where the desks are all neat and tidy and everything is in its place. When people come up to Grassy Mountain, what do we want them to see? We want people to be happy, to want to work, and enjoy the work because they’ve got autonomy. We need to put structure in place to bring that type of culture to life. It’s a long process and it’s something that we worked really hard on at Caval Ridge. There are immense benefits to getting that culture well established.
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Q: What challenges do you expect to face with this project?

A: With any project that’s new, and specifically a coal project, there are always going to be challenges. I think that people now understand the difference between thermal coal and metallurgical coal. However, I think in any community, you’re always going to have the people that agree that the mine should go ahead, and then those that don’t. I don’t think people know how much work is involved with starting up a new mine and there will be challenges in that itself. Riversdale, for the moment, has seven-odd people working for them in Blairmore and that will expand soon. Then, we’re going to have to look at where we have our office space, and deal with the growing pains that come with an expanding team. The amount of work from a construction point of view is huge and one of the issues we’ll face, as I said, is that we just don’t have the space yet, so logistics will be challenging.

Q: What are you most excited for with the project?

A: The opportunity to work with a talented team to create a mine from a blank piece of paper. I also enjoy the process at the government and consultation levels, working with local communities and seeing our team grow. Those are the really rewarding and exciting things about starting up a new project. For Riversdale, the Crowsnest Pass communities are vital and we will involve community members, leaders and local government through each phase.

Q: Have you ever lived in a country with snow?

A: No. We’ve always lived in the Southern Hemisphere. Winter, for us, will be a good learning experience. We had planned an unrelated holiday in Canada back in January. We had it booked and everything, then this opportunity came up, so we came to have a look. We encountered small things that you wouldn’t even think of, that you see as normal day-to-day things. Windscreen wiper fluid runs out, what do I do? I just fill it up with water. Water freezes. Fortunately, we sorted that one out. There were a couple of learnings we experienced then and I’m sure there’ll be many more, but we’re looking forward to it. My youngest daughter is really looking forward to winter.
September 13th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 37
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