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Go with the flow – managing hydrogeological staff turnover at Ernest Henry mine


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Author D Ashton, B Miller and C Hawtin


Ernest Henry mine (EHM) is an Iron oxide copper-gold sublevel cave mine located 30 minutes north of Cloncurry in North-West Queensland. The underground mine lies beneath open pit excavations, which were in operation from 1999 to 2011. Fault structures carry large quantities of water from the cover sequence aquifer into the underground mine area. The open cut excavations exacerbates vulnerability of the underground mine to the high intensity wet season storms of northern Queensland. These factors combine to make hydrogeological issues high priority for mine operation. Water-related risks include the cost of removing water from the mine, flooding risk and mud rush potential.

Turnover of key technical staff in late 2015 at EHM resulted in the mine being left in an untenable position of losing the primary source of technical knowledge. Due to encouragement of cross-disciplinary activity coupled with workload and resource sharing, the management team were confident in utilising on-site personnel to offset loss of experienced personnel.

Remaining geology personnel took additional responsibility for hydrogeological monitoring equipment and planning of upcoming work. Consultant input was limited to review only and an emphasis was placed on knowledge transfer to the geology team. Using this strategy, a 13 hole dewatering program was successfully implemented, achieving a significant water level drop in areas of elevated hydrological risk, whilst also upgrading the hydrological monitoring sensor array.

Through a development program centred on cross-disciplinary exposure, the technical team was able to retain key technical knowledge despite staff turnover and produce strong results outside traditional training and roles. This paper serves as a case study on the methods, strengths and drawbacks of putting a focus on cross-disciplinary exposure as a method to combat staff turnover.


Ashton, D, Miller, B and Hawtin, C, 2017. Go with the flow – managing hydrogeological staff turnover at Ernest Henry mine, in Proceedings Tenth International Mining Geology Conference 2017, pp 129–136 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).