The 2012 Howard L. Hartman Award
Awarded To: Keith Wallace
Outstanding Service in the field of Mine Ventilation.
I am truly honored to receive this award. I look at the 12 previous inductees and am humbled at being included in this group.
My interest in mining came from my father. His career started as a mining engineer for the Bradley Mining Company in Stibnite, Idaho where he met my mother the camp nurse. He later became an engineer and executive for Utah International, which become BHP Minerals. I found his work interesting and this led me to transfer to the Mining Engineering program at the University of California, Berkeley in 1978. I was never too sure my father approved, since he graduated from Stanford and Cal, the arch rival of Stanford, certainly wasn’t his first choice for me.
I entered the field of mine ventilation really by accident. When I enrolled at Cal I had Dr. Malcolm McPherson as one of my mining engineering professors. Those in the audience that do not know Malcolm, he was one a forerunners in the field of mine ventilation. He was one of the first to develop software for ventilation planning and has numerous papers, awards and a textbook to his credits. His ability to make the subject interesting and relevant made it enjoyable to take his courses. He somehow made topics like thermodynamics both interesting and understandable!
He convinced me to continue my studies and obtain a Master’s degree with him as my advisor. After finishing with my degree he mentioned to me that he used to have a consulting business in the United Kingdom before he came to Berkeley. In the early 80s finding work as a mining engineer was challenging. He asked me if I would like to start a new consulting business. I readily agreed. That was 1982. We incorporated Mine Ventilation Services in 1983. Malcolm is the reason I went into mine ventilation. He instilled a passion in me for this field. He was extremely bright and could answer virtually any question I had regarding ventilation, thermodynamics, psychrometrics and basic theory. He was my mentor until his passing in 2008.
I have been blessed to work in this field for nearly 30 years. I often get asked by young engineers what holds my interest in mine ventilation. There are several reasons. First, it encompasses every underground mine regardless of mineral or mining method. It means that I can work on a complicated block cave or stope mine, a tunnel construction project and sort through a longwall coal mine all in the same week. It also means doing work at various mining operations around the world. It is fascinating to look at different approaches to problems and the various skill sets in the industry. What other mining field crosses so many boundaries so readily? It is never boring to me and I am constantly challenged. It has also been rewarding to meet so many individuals with similar professional interests.
On the other hand, engineers that work at mines in the United States rarely stay in mine ventilation. I have pondered why this is so. In some U.S. mines there is not a dedicated ventilation engineer or technician. Often the engineer needs to share this task with other engineering functions. This makes for time management issues in that ventilation at many mines is or should be a full time job in its own right. By splitting time between two or more tasks, it is likely that the ventilation system will have issues.
However, after some thought you realize that a ventilation engineer at an operating mine is not a job for everybody. After all, each person working underground has an opinion about the ventilation system. This means you get input from every direction. If something is not working well, you are usually one of the first to know…. You field the complaints and you dive in to fix the problem.
Fixing problems or simply planning the future ventilation needs at a mine bring a second challenge to the engineer. Invariably new infrastructure, such as ventilation raises, bleeder shafts or new airways, will need to be constructed. This means capital. Management will require justifications of these costs. Again, everyone is an expert and will offer suggestions on how best to ventilate the mine in the future. Ideas such as reducing airflow, and hence future infrastructure, by using series ventilation, or using a ramp as a primary intake instead of a dedicated fresh air raise, or delaying raises or bleeder shafts as long as practicable to put off capital costs will be forthcoming. All of these suggestions need to be addressed and the engineer must stand by his or her design to ensure the objectives of the ventilation system are met.
In my opinion, a good mine ventilation engineer is one with the ability to solve puzzles, since many of the issues in sorting out a good ventilation network involves balancing airflows and pressures. In addition a good engineer needs to be a good listener, respects the input of others, has a solid skill set in the field, and can be persuasive to ensure a good ventilation design is implemented. It is not for everyone.
Why then do ventilation engineers stay in the field? Well, for me it is the challenge of designing and implementing a ventilation system that dilutes contaminants generated during the mining process. I was lucky. I had a great professor that was an inspiration and motivator. When I was a young engineer there was an abundance of mine ventilation professors in the United States. Men like, Howard Hartman, Malcolm McPherson, Jan Mutmansky, Raj Ramani, Pierre Mousset-Jones, Y.J. Wang, Rudy Greuer, Chris Hall, Andrew Walla, Jerry Tien, and Sukumar Bandopadhyay. All of these individuals taught and did research in the field of mine ventilation.
As time went on most of the professors mentioned retired and the universities did not replace them with a professor specializing in ventilation. Of the above list, I believe only two or three still teach in this area of engineering. Perhaps this is why I noticed over the past 10 or so years that entry level engineers seemed to lack many ventilation fundamentals. However, I am encouraged of late as new professors are starting to pick up the torch and teach and do research in the field. This is an excellent sign. Perhaps this is from additional research funding available through NIOSH, but regardless of the reason, it is great to see students with professors teaching and doing research in mine ventilation.
I highly encourage those ventilation professors in the audience to inspire and provide a passion for young engineers to study mine ventilation. I know for me it was my professor that gave me the initiative to pursue this field.
I advise young engineers that the satisfaction you get from being a ventilation engineer are the intangibles. That is, it is rare you can quantify how much safer an underground mine or tunnel is by your work, or that by improving the environment mine productivity has increased – I know it is so, but quantifying the improvement is very difficult.
For me, it is the thought that perhaps through my work I have saved one miner from contacting cancer from pneumoconiosis, silicosis, or DPM exposure. Perhaps I have implemented a design that kept one miner from getting heat stress or prevented a methane gas explosion or other disaster. Perhaps I have saved one miner’s life by my work. This thought alone makes my job well worth it.
In conclusion, I would like to again thank the Hartman Award committee for nominating me for this honor. I am truly humbled and grateful to be recognized in this field and recognize that I would not be in this field had it not been for Dr. McPherson. It is in his memory I accept this award.
I am also thankful to the past and current staff at MVS who made my career possible and to Dr. Calizaya and the Utah staff for organizing this symposium, and last, but not least, my wife, Judy who has been so supportive in my career.
The Howard L. Hartman Award, established in 1989, recognizes distinguished contributions in practice, teaching or research in the field of underground ventilation engineering.