Meet Our People: Thomas Edwards – Senior Exploration Geologist

We end up with a kind of underground Ordnance Survey map of
exactly what is going on. What I love about Geology is the discovery side of it. We are always discovering something new. People sometimes say, ‘Isn’t it all just the same’ or
‘They’re all just rocks’, but more often than not, less people have seen that rock
than have walked on the moon! It is unbelievably exciting. Every time we turn over
something new, it is something of interest, It is something to get you fired up. I started at ICL in 2008 I think, so roughly 10 years ago
now. Just as a logging geologist, so being sent underground to
look a all the rocks that the drillers had produced. Then I moved up to my current position which is senior
exploration geologist. So I am in charge of all of the drilling, in charge of
planning where we are going to be drilling next, and what parts of the Polyhalite we are going to look for. I always think of it like the Ordnance Survey. We all know
that their job is to produce maps on the surface so that people can find their way around. We kind of do something
similar for the mine. We drill, we explore and we meassure and we assay the rocks.
Then we produce plans and maps of where the good material is, where the poor material is, which way they need to mine. We end up with a kind of underground Ordnance Survey map of
exactly what is going on with the Polyhalite. I usually start my day coming into the office here. Sit down
and grab a coffee, get together with all the Geologists in the office, and just really organise what is going to happen
in the day coming forward, whats being planned. We’ll get together and have a meeting with all of the
technical services department, Rock Engineering, Survey Ventilation & the Geology Department, and we will all
be in that and discuss issues hat have come up over the pevious day, if there has been any safety issues within
technical services or any big safety issues within the mine. ICL’s position in the national mining community has changed
a lot since I started. When I started, very few people knew about it. When I talked to people oustide of work, they all
kind of looked at me like I was an Alien, when I said, ‘Oh, I work in a mine in North Yorkshire’. Certainly now, when I say that, people go ‘Oh, I’ve heard of
that mine, you’re that potash mine, Boulby isn’t it.’ They have heard of it in so many different ways, whether it
is through Polyhalite, whether it is through national media whether it is through the science that the Dark Matter Labs
do. So recently, we hae switched from mining Potash to
Polyhalite. It was a pretty major thing. Obviously we mined Potash for
40 years. It has had lots of changes that have come with it,
Polyhalite is a lot harder, it is a lot more difficult to extract efficiently, whereas Potash is quite soft and quite
easy to remove. I’m really enjoying working with Polyhalite, primarily
because it is so new, it is so different. No one has ever come across most of the things that we are
coming across. Every time we find something new in our exploration, it is a
world first generally, and that’s great. It is really interesting, it’s really challenging, it’s a
really nice position to be in. It gives me a real buzz sometimes when people want to know
about it and you think, ‘Oh wow, the only person you can really ask is me’. It is really nice to be able to sit down
and see people gain a real understanding of it. Polyhalite is low chloride. If you think about Potash,
Potash is Potassium Chloride, that’s its molecular formula. So to get that Chloride out is expensive, it is difficult,
you have to dissolve the product. By contrast, Polyhalite, there is Haylite in their, there is
Salt, but it is present as seperate bands of Salt. That is really great from a farmers point of view, that
wants a low chloride product. For my job we have lots of tools, all sorts of different
ones that we use for different things. One of the most important tools is a computer, and I think
that goes for so many jobs nowadays, but a computer is key. Then we have things like our Portable X-Ray Flouresence
Analyser, and that is brand new technology. It is really useful for getting up to the minute,
instantaneous information on the spot underground, and not having to wait to anlyse materia er on the surface. That is
a really key piece of technology that we are pushing going forward. We have a really quite extensive process from the
drill point to actually analysing the samples. It is the geologists job to go down once that core is
produced, and log that core. What that means is detailed descriptions, so meassurments of
the angles, meassurements of the minerals and their percentages. Looking at the structure and the
texture and how the rock has been formed. What order it has been formed in. A sample might weigh 30kg, we need to
reduce that down to something manageable for the labs. So there’s crushing involved, there’s cutting with rock
saws, there’s riffling. All of that results in probably 40 or so small bags of
reduce Poyhalite ready to go up to the labs. Who will then conduct a number of analytical tests and give
us a definitive grade result. We go to conferences, we go to meetings, regional groups,
and there is loads of interest in Boulby and what Boulby is doing. It is nice that we can get out there and talk to
people about it. We have had a lot of work with the Salt Union mine in
Cheshire. We are going down there to run some drilling programs with
them. They need some drilling expertise and ICL has offered to help with that. I find working at ICL, generally, is good fun, it is
challenging, it is really varied. You really don’t know from one day to the next exactly what
you’ll be doing. You’ll have an outline of what work you have already got,
but you could come in that morning and find there’s something completely new.