Research and Development Projects

Every year Okane develops new and improved tools, practices, and processes as part of our R&D program. This year we are focusing R&D efforts across six differing projects championed by our technical staff in collaboration with external partners.

Okane is a leading innovator in the development of digital twins and predictive modelling for the effective management of mine waste landforms. Our research and development team are in the process of developing enhanced add-ins to commercially available software that decrease modelling turnaround times and increase accuracy of their predictive capabilities.

Project Campion: Robert Shurniak, M.Sc., P.Eng.

Robert is an expert in the use and development of numerical models as they relate to mine closure planning; specifically, simulating soil-plant-atmosphere and saturated / unsaturated water movement over, around, and through any material or vegetation used in mine operations and closure.  Since beginning with Okane in 2002, Robert has supervised, managed, and advised on numerous numerical modelling projects.  Robert has developed over 50 long-term climate databases, accounting for historical climate and predicted future climate change, for a range of sites (arctic to arid) around the world.  He also has experience designing, installing, and maintaining field monitoring systems and evaluating data from such installations.

Robert is the Numerical Modelling Group Leader for Okane and he ensures all modelling projects are completed to Okane’s high standards using state-of-the-art modelling software.  Research and development of new modelling tools to assist with mine closure are a priority at Okane. For example, mine rock storage (MRS) typically generates approximately 80% of a site’s overall acid rock drainage and metal leaching (ARD-ML) load. Modelling tools are important for determining the impetus for ARD-ML generation at a given site and to test potential mitigation methods.

Okane regularly collaborates with research institutions to help drive innovation and share learnings with industry. Our technical experts are assisting researchers with the development of an in-depth tool for climate and soil-plant-atmosphere analysis, and to evaluate how climate change is influencing current monitoring, spatial variability, and cover system performance changes with time.

 

Project Champion: Robert Shurniak, M.Sc., P.Eng.

Robert is an expert in the use and development of numerical models as they relate to mine closure planning; specifically, simulating soil-plant-atmosphere and saturated / unsaturated water movement over, around, and through any material or vegetation used in mine operations and closure.  Since beginning with Okane in 2002, Robert has supervised, managed, and advised on numerous numerical modelling projects.  Robert has developed over 50 long-term climate databases, accounting for historical climate and predicted future climate change, for a range of sites (arctic to arid) around the world.  He also has experience designing, installing, and maintaining field monitoring systems and evaluating data from such installations.

Robert is the Numerical Modelling Group Leader for Okane and he ensures all modelling projects are completed to Okane’s high standards using state-of-the-art modelling software.  Research and development of new modelling tools to assist with mine closure are a priority at Okane. For example, mine rock storage (MRS) typically generates approximately 80% of a site’s overall acid rock drainage and metal leaching (ARD-ML) load. Modelling tools are important for determining the impetus for ARD-ML generation at a given site and to test potential mitigation methods.

Okane has extensive experience in simulating water balances for application in water management and cover system performance estimates. Our research and development team are in the process of validating a commercially available hydrological models used to estimate snow water equivalent in catchments for inputs into water balances.

Project Champion: Luke Kary, B.Sc., GIT

Luke is a Jr. Geoscientist with Okane based in the Elk Valley of British Columbia where work and play thrive in a rugged mountainous environment. Combining experience in hydrology, geomorphology, and avalanche education, Luke is exploring tools to quantify and map the distribution of winter precipitation across landforms to assist clients achieve their water management goals. Using data from Okane’s long term monitoring programs, spatially distributed numerical models, and ground truthing measurements, Luke looks to enhance the understanding of snow hydrology and its impacts on mine affected landscapes.

 

Okane has recognized the industry need for a tool to assist with the development and selection of strategies that achieve target returning land uses for mine affected lands, and associated mining landforms. Our mine planning experts are developing a tool that will address this industry need.

Project Champion: Joe Huelin, B.Eng, CPEng, RPEQ (Mining), MAusIMM

Joe is the Operations Manager for Okane’s Mine Planning Division. Joe has spent over 16 years in operational Coal mine planning and during this time he noticed the distinct gap between day-to-day priorities of the operation, and commitments and requirements of the mine under closure regulations.  Recognising that Mining Engineering has a huge part to play in effective and economic mine restoration, he is passionate about finding ways to bridge this gap, and to encourage operators and mine closure practitioners to consider key factors such as end land use early in the mine life.  While the industry has a very firm handle on the reasons why integrated mine closure and land use strategy should be a priority for mining companies, a clear strategy for how to assess and implement these processes is largely absent.  Through involvement in R&D, Joe is hoping to use his experience in setting up Mine Planning systems and strategies, and combined with Okane’s closure experience, develop a land use strategy service, which will ultimately allow Okane to fulfill the needs of clients and the mining industry.

It has long been recognized that scaling up of standard industry kinetic tools can be problematic in predicting long term water quality. Okane’s advanced customizable leach columns (ACLCs) can better replicate site conditions and reduce the need for scaling factors when modelling. Our team is collaborating with research institutions and using Okane’s ACLCs to investigate the impact of scaling factors. The project aims to improve methodologies for scaling from the laboratory bench to the field.

Project Champion: Terryn Kuzyk, M.Sc., P.Eng.

Terryn is a civil engineer by trade but spent her career in environmental engineering before coming to Okane. Her graduate studies in the Elk Valley were heavily integrated with R&D projects, so she understands and appreciates the value these projects bring to not only industry, but also as opportunities for upcoming scientists. Terryn’s varied skill set has allowed her to be involved in many of Okane’s focus areas, including advancement of the ACLCs to improve the understanding of metal leaching and acid rock drainage (ML/ARD), or acid metalliferous drainage (AMD). Growing our knowledge base to solve closure challenges more effectively is a big part of why Terryn is so passionate about R&D.

Management and control of potentially acid forming (PAF) wastes is a significant issue for the mining industry, with an estimated cost in the billions to control. Cover systems that manage the amount of water and oxygen entering the PAF material (i.e., geochemical stability), while also contributing to physical stability (i.e., erosional and geotechnical stability) are commonly used to manage this risk. This collaborative CRC project involves both industry and academia to examine cover system integrity by evaluating the structural and biophysical changes that have occurred over time, and comparing them to original designs and as-built characteristics. Okane will provide technical advisory services based on extensive experience regarding cover system construction, monitoring, and evolution.

 

Project Champion: Mike O’Kane, M.Sc., P. Eng.

Mike O’Kane founded Okane in 1996 and continues to work as a senior technical advisor. He utilizes a life of asset value framework that incorporates evaluation for optimizing the “best” next land use with an acceptable level of residual risk while maximizing incremental net present value and achieving progressive ESG outcomes.  Mike is also a director of the Landform Design Institute and chair of its Technical Advisory Panel. Mike recognizes the importance of research and development in advancing industry practice and emerging technologies. He places high importance on technology transfer to ensure that findings from research are applied at the industry level.

2020-2021 R&D Projects

Okane has developed an innovative way to simulate site specific conditions in the laboratory using our ACLCs, and research teams are working to improve design and automation of these columns. In addition, we are collaborating with research institutions to complete microbiological testing within the columns to enhance institutional knowledge of the inner workings of waste rock storage and tailings facilities.

Project Champion: Dr. Jared Robertson, Ph.D., E.I.T. 

Jared has been a Geochemist with Okane since 2018, focusing primarily on different modelling approaches of acid rock drainage processes (ARD) and leading the development of the ACLCs in the Saskatoon laboratory. Jared has provided geochemical support for clients around the world by connecting the geochemistry of their site to improved closure outcomes. Having spent several years in academia, Jared has a strong link to the research and development world and enjoys applying R&D to larger scale settings. Developing the industry’s understanding of ARD processes is a critical component to helping Okane’s clients by lowering the risk of ARD release to environmental receptors and decreasing the cost of treatment. Jared is actively involved with Okane R&D to help create a more sustainable industry for future generations.

Project Champion: Miguel Jerome, B.Sc., G.Dip. Eng.

Miguel studied mechanical engineering and since joining Okane in 2016 has had the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary role. He is involved in the management of the Perth laboratory, creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), completing data management, and ensuring tests and processes are completed according to relevant practices. Miguel has site experience conducting routine inspections, maintenance, instrument installation, data collection and interpretation of performance monitoring data in Western Australia. He has extensive experience operating the ACLCs. Miguel believes that R&D is an important aspect of work at Okane. Through R&D, we can improve our current processes and increase the efficiency and productivity of our projects, which ultimately helps reduce operational costs.

Okane is in the unique position of having collected 25 years of environmental data specific to the mining industry, representing climates all over the world. Our research and development team is working to formalize our years of experience into usable datasets that could help mining companies develop better predictive models to evaluate long term environmental performance.

 

Project Champion: Amy Heidman, M.Sc., P.Ag.

Amy combined her background in chemical engineering technology and land reclamation to complete post-graduate work in soil bioremediation. She joined Okane in 2007 as a Geoscientist to work in oilsands reclamation and has since contributed to cover system and waste rock dump monitoring programs at various projects around the world. Her expertise is data management using SQL managed databases and she advocates robust data collection and storage to support R&D projects. Long-term monitoring is crucial for understanding ecosystem development and geochemistry of mine waste, and data Okane collects and analyses is an important contribution to these fields of study. 

 

Okane has a long history of collaborating with industry and research institutions to help drive innovation in our industry. Our technical experts are providing technical guidance and facilitating collaboration for the investigation of controls on geomembrane leakage to further understanding of this process and its implications to the industry.

Project Champion: Mark Phillip, M.Sc., E.I.T.

Mark Phillip is a Senior Environmental Engineer that has been with Okane since 2004 when he moved from New Mexico to Fort McMurray to manage a reclamation monitoring network. He has extensive experience with cover system field trials and performance monitoring systems. The former has involved integrating laboratory and field testing to assess compaction trials and develop quality assurance/quality control specifications. Accurately measuring water balance components of runoff and net percolation introduced Mark to geosynthetics, starting him on a path that has involved a variety of geomembranes, geocomposites, and geotextiles. Originally viewing geosynthetics with concern in favour of natural materials, Mark, now in Okane’s Montana office, has come to appreciate their use in mine reclamation when developing a landform that supports a returning land use. Mark is very happy to be assisting the Okane R&D effort, an important charge that can enhance options for clients and advance industry practice.

Okane has extensive experience in landform design, including landform evolution and erosion modelling. Our research and development team is in the process of developing a position paper to outline our preferred methods for this type of predictive modelling, to further knowledge on this topic.

Project Champion: Ian Taylor, B.Eng. Env. Hons. MIEAus

Ian joined Okane in 2013 and is a Senior Environmental Engineer based in Okane’s Perth office with seventeen years of experience in civil and mining projects, mine rehabilitation and closure, and related geo-environmental projects. Ian has extensive experience in mine landform design, surface water design and assessment, hydrology/hydraulics, landform evolution assessments, and erosional stability assessments. Ian continues his professional development through industry conferences and targeted research programs. Erosion research is a specific area of interest for Ian as understanding the science of erosion processes is key to engineering inherently stable landform designs.

Okane is committed to cultivating institutional knowledge. Our project champion is writing a journal paper regarding the hydrogeological and geochemical components of a Hydrology and Geochemical Model, to further knowledge of mine rock stockpile management.

Project Champion: Dr. Jared Robertson, Ph.D., E.I.T.

Jared has been a Geochemist with Okane since 2018, focusing primarily on different modelling approaches of acid rock drainage processes (ARD) and leading the development of the ACLCs in the Saskatoon laboratory. Jared has provided geochemical support for clients around the world by connecting the geochemistry of their site to improved closure outcomes. Having spent several years in academia, Jared has a strong link to the research and development world and enjoys applying R&D to larger scale settings. Developing the industry’s understanding of ARD processes is a critical component to helping Okane’s clients by lowering the risk of ARD release to environmental receptors and decreasing the cost of treatment. Jared is actively involved with Okane R&D to help create a more sustainable industry for future generations.

Okane is a leading innovator in the development of digital twins and predictive modelling for mined rock management. Our research and development team are in the process of developing enhanced add-ins to commercially available software to decrease modelling turnaround times and increase accuracy of their predictive capabilities.

Project Champion: Robert Shurniak, M.Sc., P.Eng.

Robert is an expert in the use and development of numerical models as they relate to mine closure planning; specifically, simulating soil-plant-atmosphere and saturated / unsaturated water movement over, around and through any material or vegetation used in mine operations and closure. Since beginning with Okane in 2002, Robert has supervised, managed, and advised on numerous numerical modelling projects. Robert has developed over 50 long-term climate databases, accounting for historical climate and predicted future climate change, for a range of sites (arctic to arid) around the world. He also has experience designing, installing, and maintaining field monitoring systems and evaluating the results from such installations. Robert is the Numerical Modelling Group Leader for Okane and he ensures all modelling projects are completed to Okane’s high standards using state-of-the-art modelling software. Research and development of new modelling tools for simulating mine rock storage (MRS) are a priority at Okane, as MRSs typically generate about 80% of a site’s overall acid rock drainage and metal leaching (ARD-ML) load. Modelling tools are important for determining the impetus for ARD-ML generation at a given site and to test potential mitigation methods.