As part of our Careers in Mining series, this post looks at the job of Environmental Officer with Carolyn Johns, formerly from Kemess Mine.
Carolyn was born in Kelowna, BC where she has spent the majority of her life since. While studying at UBC-Okanagan she worked one summer as a Watershed Restoration Technician for the City of Kelowna and then two summers as an Environmental Technician at Kemess Mine where she began to develop skills first learned in University courses. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Freshwater Science she spent nearly 3 years working for the BC Lake Stewardship Society as a Project Coordinator. Following this, she then accepted a permanent job with Kemess Mine as an Environmental Officer until the mine closed. When she is not working she spends her time traveling, hiking, practicing yoga, working out, and writing.
What exactly did you do as an Environmental Officer?
I was part of a team responsible for ensuring the mine was in compliance with environmental permits. This involved monitoring surface water, ground water and soil quality by taking samples and then analyzing the data. Data was then summarized and presented in reports to government and other stakeholders. I was also responsible for the waste management and recycling programs, coordinating the collection of hazardous wastes and recyclable materials and sending them for offsite disposal. I also helped plan and prepare the mine for closure with activities like reclamation and waste management planning.
What came first – a desire to go into mining, or the desire to work in the environmental sciences?
The desire to work in environmental sciences came first. I was always interested in environmental issues and when the time came to decide what education to pursue, environmental studies was the obvious choice for me. A summer job posting at Kemess mine sounded so interesting and I was lucky enough to work there for two summers consecutively. That experience brought about my interest in doing environmental work in the mining industry.
Did you feel you were making a difference in how mining is evolving with respect to environmental impacts?
Yes. Mining companies have to meet regulations and comply with permits. Many progressive companies encourage research and further investigation into issues of environmental consequence. Often times data collected on site can reveal trends that indicate an issue that may not have been anticipated. When data shows possible negative environmental consequences, the environmental department would be responsible for mitigating those effects.
Did your job allow you to travel? If so, where to?
The mine was in a remote location, about 400 km northwest of Prince George, BC. I lived in Kelowna so I traveled to the site by charter aircraft. I also traveled to Prince George and Smithers for conferences and courses.
What did your average day look like?
Shifts on site were 12 hours long, starting at 6 am. The first part of the day was usually spent catching up on emails and correspondence, followed by meetings and then sampling in the field. Samples would then have to be prepared for shipping to off-site laboratories for analysis. There was also computer work to perform data analysis, report writing, etc.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I really enjoy undertaking projects where I can see the work through from beginning to end. To understand a topic completely and see changes/improvements through is very rewarding. In the last year of my employment I undertook a study to determine the characteristics of our tailings impoundment (lake) to anticipate what management in the future would look like.
What did you love most about this job?
The fact that I got to perform field work (hiking, riding an ATV or snowmobile and flying in a helicopter) in one of the most beautiful places in the world AND get paid for it!!
There must be aspects of the job which you didn’t enjoy so much. What were they?
I found that there were times when I was doing a lot of computer work that could be tedious and time consuming, which was not very enjoyable.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
My career advice to anyone, whether they are following in this path or another, is to pursue something you are passionate about.
For more interviews with mining professionals in different jobs, have a look at our main Careers in Mining post.
Header photo: aerial seeding at Highland Valley Copper. Image courtesy of Teck Resources Ltd.