Monday, 31 July 2017

When Scientists and Engineers Talk – Lessons from the Oil Industry and Applications to Mining

The mineralogy of a rock (the individual constituents defined by their unique combinations of chemistry and crystallography) and the texture of a rock (the way in which the minerals are arranged geospatially, particularly with respect to each other, voids, pores and fractures), together largely control, or influence in some way, every major geological, petrophysical and engineering attribute relevant to the petroleum industry, whether it be density (sonic), hardness and brittleness (frackability), electrical conductivity (resistivity), radioactivity (gamma ray), rock type and lithotype (sedimentary, igneous or metamorphic components).
Can the same be said for mining? Almost certainly yes, according to Alan Butcher, Professor of Geomaterials and Applied Mineralogy at the Geological Survey of Finland, who will be presenting an eponymous keynote lecture at Process Mineralogy '18 in Cape Town next year. Prof. Butcher has spent the last 20 years developing automated mineralogical techniques for the mining, geoscience and petroleum sectors, where he has gained much experience in examining rocks of commercial importance. Prior to this, he was a lecturer in igneous petrology and course director of the MSc in Mining Geology at the Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, UK.
Alan will show how the application of mineral and petrographic information is often quite different, as unlike the oil industry - where the commodities (oil and/or gas) are not measured directly, only the areas in the rock where they reside (mostly pores) - in mining, we investigate the nature of the commodity directly (ore-forming minerals). This leads us to tackle similar challenges but from completely different perspectives. In mineral processing, we are typically concerned with predicting, measuring, monitoring and improving the behaviour of the (mostly valuable) components as they pass through the drilling, blasting, comminution and separation stages of the mining cycle. There is no question that an ore’s performance is strongly controlled and influenced by its original starting mineralogy and texture.
The keynote will review which minerals are most likely to cause significant production problems in both worlds. It will compare the analytical work flows used to characterize the so-called menace minerals, and will suggest what learnings can be made. For example, knowing that one has the right type of pore-lining clay in a reservoir rock is critical to a petroleum engineer; likewise, being made aware that clay is present in an ore before it is processed (rather than after) is very helpful to a minerals engineer. The two industries typically approach characterizing clays from completely different angles, partly because the applications are different, but also the budgets and risk factors are not on the same scale.
But that aside, given that the minerals in each case may be similar (or virtually identical), and that it is applied mineralogists (scientists) who document and deliver the information to the engineers, it is important that all professionals involved in the greater natural resources community share their best practices across what are traditionally separate industrial segments, and that innovations are openly discussed so they can be adopted, if found to be useful. The paper will be a major contribution to popularizing such a cross-disciplinary approach between the oil and gas and mining industries.  

1 comment:

  1. Reads very interesting; I am sure this new way of looking at minerals would be another tool in the hands of mineral industry persons to select most appropriate process(es) for beneficiation.Learning from other disciplines would add to our knowledge.
    Looking forward to this presentation.


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