Oral-History:Barbara A. Filas
About Barbara A. Filas
Barbara A. Filas is a third-generation miner, a second-generation mining engineer, and a licensed professional engineer. Her grandfather emigrated from Finland to work in the copper mines in Bisbee, and her father, Carl Appelin, worked in those same mines from the age of 15. Like her father, Barbara earned her Mining Engineering degree from The University of Arizona.
Filas started her career in the underground coal mines. She joined the coal industry shortly after passage of the Federal Surface Mining, Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. At the time, this new law shifted emphasis toward obtaining permits for the coal mines and preparation plants that she had been working for. This resulted in her unplanned specialization in the environmental and compliance aspects of mining. In 1987, Filas left a soft coal market to apply her environmental expertise to the booming gold mining business in Eureka, Nevada. In 1989, Filas opted to leave active mine operations to join the Denver-based consulting firm Knight Piésold and Co. to specialize in permitting, compliance, and the preparation of international social and environmental impact assessments, action plans and management systems. She is internationally recognized for her expertise in environmental and social responsibility having worked in both the developed and developing world, with project experience on six continents. She is currently a Partner with Filas Engineering and Environmental Services and a Professor of Practice at the Colorado School of Mines. Ms. Filas has volunteered thousands of hours to the mining industry. She has worked with the World Bank, mining associations, regulatory authorities, and other interest groups to influence the direction of laws, rules and guidance documents to assure that the industry remains politically and economically viable into the future. Through her active involvement with the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME), she has served in numerous positions and committees. Notably, she was instrumental in helping to create the Environmental Division in 1997, the Student Mentor Program in 1999, and served as the Society's 48th President and its first female President in 2005. Ms. Filas served as an AIME Trustee from 2008 to 2012 and on the Executive Committee of WAAIME. She has received numerous awards including the SME President’s Citation in 2000 and 2019, St. Barbara’s Day Award in 2013, AIME Honorary Membership in 2011, Mining Foundation of the Southwest Medal of Merit 2008, SME Environmental Distinguished Service 2001, SME Ivan B. Rahn Education Award 2001, and the SME Fellow Award in 2001.
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About the Interview
Barbara A. Filas: An Interview conducted by Tim Arnold in 2019 in Denver, Colorado.
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers and Barbara Filas, dated February 25, 2019. The manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, 12999 East Adam Aircraft Circle, Englewood, CO 80112, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Barbara A. Filas, “Barbara Filas: Following in Her Dad’s Footsteps (and Working to Fill His Shoes),” an oral history conducted by Tim Arnold in 2019. AIME Oral History Program Series. American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, Denver, CO, 2019
INTERVIEWEE: Barbara Filas
INTERVIEWER: Tim Arnold
PLACE: Denver, Colorado
Today is Monday, February 25th, 2019. This is an interview with Barbara Filas, Partner with Filas Engineering and Environmental Services and a Professor of Practice at Colorado School of Mines. The interviewer is Tim Arnold. This interview is being conducted as part of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers’ oral history project. We are recording at the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration's annual conference in Denver, Colorado, and we're going to discuss her experiences in the mining engineering industry and her contributions to the field. So, Barb, tell me about where you grew up.
00:49 FROM GRAND JUNCTION TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA…WITH MY PIANO
I was born in Grand Junction, Colorado, a native there. I graduated from high school at Grand Junction High School. When I got out of school, I had decided that- I hadn't really decided what I wanted to do as a professional, so I went to the local college in Grand Junction. My dad actually bribed me, because they asked me what I wanted for my graduation present, and I said I wanted a piano. And they said, "Well, if you stay and go to Mesa for at least a year, we'll get you a piano for graduation." And, if you'd go ahead and go on to Arizona (where I wanted to go just to get out of Colorado), then they'd get me a pen and pencil set. So, I went ahead and got the piano and stayed in Grand Junction.
I took a Geology course because I thought that it might have been interesting to see if I wanted to get into mining because I never was very creative in my thought process about what I was going to do when I grew up. My mom was a nurse, my dad was a mining engineer, and, in high school, I worked as a nurse's aide at the local hospital. When I figured out that you didn't give a patient a glass of water without a doctor's order, I decided I didn't really want to be a nurse because I'd be being told what to do for my whole life. So, I looked as far as mining engineering at the University of Arizona, which was my dad's alma mater, and the rest is history. I went over to Arizona after that year at Mesa with my piano.
02:29 INFLUENCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO BECOME A MINING ENGINEER
So, tell me a little more about how you got influenced to be a mining engineer, how your dad influenced you to get into the profession?
I guess it wasn't really my dad that influenced me, per se, other than it was his discipline, and he traveled a lot. As a kid, that's not necessarily a good thing because he was away a lot, but I love to travel; and so, I thought that was a pretty neat thing. He was a little nervous when I said I wanted to go to his alma mater because he'd gotten an honorary degree from the University of Arizona and it was all his friends that were in the department, Bill Drescher and Tom O'Neil and all those guys were in the department at the time. And, he was so afraid I'd flunk out and humiliate him. He was pretty nervous about that. But he didn't discourage me. And, he supported me, and my mom did, too, to go off and give it a shot.
03:35 FAMILY BACKGROUND IN MINING AND A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
So, does your family come from a background of mining?
Well, my dad was a mining engineer, but I think, if you step a generation further back, his family immigrated from Sweden and Finland. My grandma was Swedish. My grandfather was Finn, and he emigrated over to the Bisbee area in Arizona to work in the mines, and he died of silicosis. He wasn't an engineer. He died of silicosis when my dad was about 15. So, he started trying to get the odd job here and there, working wherever he could get a job. And, one time, the President of Phelps Dodge came through the McNeil area, which was where they lived, and they got a flat tire, or their car broke down; something like that. So, my dad loaded the team up in his family's car and took them down to Douglas. He decided to- or he was getting ready to go back home, but he didn't have any money to put gas in his car, and he started to cry. They asked him what was wrong and he said he didn't have any money to get back up to McNeil. So, they filled him up with gas, and the President of Phelps Dodge asked him if he could ever do anything for him, just let him know. And, he said “Give me a job!” He managed to sneak in and get a job when he was 17 at Bisbee. And so, he worked in the mines for a while and then, but I think he was age what, 29 or 30 maybe, he went back and got a degree at the University of Arizona, which is where he met my mom.
While you were at Arizona, did you have any professors or classmates that really influenced you and what you did with your profession?
You know, I wish I could even remember the guy's name. The most memorable thing I walked out of the university with was from the guy who taught our mine management class. He said “When you get out and you get into industry, wherever you go, make sure you find your high-status friend in the company.” And, that's something that I paid attention to. I don't even remember the guy's name now and, but, that was a lasting and much repeated thing that I've carried with me throughout my career because it is important when you're the new guy on the block to find your high status friend then, and get your mentor and crawl under their wing.
06:20 LANDING FIRST PROFESSIONAL JOB WITH EXXON
How did you get your first professional job?
Well, Arizona had a pretty good recruiting program, and the guys would come through and would recruit. The students would all sign up and interview. And, it was at a time when EEO was pretty important in the United States, and people don't even know what that is anymore. But with equal opportunity employment, they had quotas of hires that companies needed to try to achieve. And I was, to the best of my knowledge, I was the second female graduate from the University of Arizona in Mining Engineering. The first had graduated just maybe six months before me, or a year before me, Denise Sylvester. So, I was the second, and there just weren't women in the industry. And so, when you went and interviewed for these jobs, it tended to be the bigger companies who were looking to fill those quotas. I went to work for Exxon, Monterey Coal Company, the underground division of Exxon.
Funny story, though, I interviewed with Bucyrus Erie, which is now a part of Caterpillar. They came on campus, and they were interviewing, and they had- there weren't very many students who'd signed up to interview. So, it was kind of-- everybody was running around saying, okay, we've got to get somebody to go into these recruiters and interview with them and just talk to them. And so, I went in, and I talked to them. And then, they come back, and then they wanted me to go out to Illinois and look at their dragline erections [and all of this - delete this is possible]. I say dragline because they were, they'd build these things on site because they're so big. And then, a drill rig-- I went out to Sierrita where they were building a drill rig. They flew me around and they made me a job offer, and Exxon made me a job offer. And, I swear to God, I'm not kidding, they offered me the position of Erection Engineer, [laughs], sorry. They didn't really think through what the position title was. I could have passed that business card around.
08:43 UNDERGROUND COAL MINE PLANNING - A WHOLE NEW EXPERIENCE
Clearly, you were a woman in a very man dominated field. So, when you went to work for Exxon, what'd you do? What were your positions? What were your job duties?
I started out in mine planning, underground mine planning for coal mining, and I had gone to an open-pit surface hard rock mining school at Arizona. So, going to work for Monterey was just an absolutely new experience because we had to beg at Arizona at the time to get them to even do an Introduction to Coal Mining class because it just wasn't what the university did. I'd actually taken a class on coal mining, so I knew what room and pillar meant. But I really didn't know much about coal mining, which is why I remembered my mine management guy’s, whatever his name was, his recommendation to find my high-status friend. And, I found Gary Skaggs, who was our senior engineer. And, Gary, to this day, if you know Gary, you would look at me, and you'd look at Gary, and you'd say, those two are the oddest pair to become mentor and mentee. And, we've been friends [since I was 23 years old]. He is the engineer's engineer. He was from West Virginia. He's very technically oriented and knows everything there is to know about underground coal mining. And, for some unknown reason, he took me under his wing and helped me to understand what I needed to do in order to do underground mine design for coal mines.
10:31 STRIKING OUT TO MAKE MY OWN NAME IN THE INDUSTRY
What was it like being a woman engineer trying to work in this male-dominated industry back then? And, do you have any good stories about trying to get your business done?
At Monterey Coal Company, because it was Exxon and because they had a pretty progressive program for hiring the straight-A students and ethnicity, there wasn't much ethnicity available. So, they hired women. It was kind of, I'd almost say, a sanitized environment. There were a lot of women by percentage working there that I can say I worked with. My first job out of school in 1979, there was probably 20% women working there, which was absolutely unheard of because, like I say, they recruited straight-A students and women. So, I didn't qualify for the straight-A student piece, but I got the- I'm convinced I got the job because I was a woman. And, they had offered, Exxon. Exxon interviewed at the school; it wasn't Monterey per se. So, when I interviewed, they made me an offer at the Highland uranium mine in Wyoming and also at Monterey Coal Company in Carlinville, Illinois. I chose to go to Carlinville because my dad had been in uranium his entire career, and I wanted to do something else and make my own name in the industry. What I know now is, if you have an opportunity to take advantage of anybody who's going to give you a hand up in the business, whether it's your dad or your friend or whoever, you should take advantage of that if you have it. But I decided I was going to make it on my own, by-golly, and went off to mine coal in Illinois.
12:32 BEING A WOMAN IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY
When I left Monterey (this is my favorite story of all time because it was very characteristic), I met my husband. And, we went off and traveled for a while after I left Monterey. And then, when we went back and started looking for jobs, it was kind of- find a place where there are multiple coal mining operations because my husband's an engineer as well. So, we went and traveled around the country, spent all our money, then we went back to my parent's house in Grand Junction, Colorado, and looked around at what kind of mining was going on. There were the coal mines in the Paonia area, so we went up there. My dad drove us up there, and he dropped me off at U. S. Steel's office, and then he took Frank up to another mine. We knocked on the door and just cold-called at these mines. And I walk into U. S. Steel, and I said, "Can I see the manager?" And they said, "Okay, well, sure." And they introduced me to Lloyd Miller.
Lloyd Miller made quite a profound impression on me because he looked at me, took one look at me, and he says-- I said, "I'm looking for a job. I'm a mining engineer, and I've worked for Monterey Coal Company for a couple of years, and I'd really like to work here for you." He looked at me, and he said, "I don't have any use for women working in the coal mines. I had a woman show up this morning to work, and she had shaved her head bald cause she said she didn't want to look sexy to the men underground." And he says, and he looked straight at me, he says, "That woman wouldn't look sexy to any man anywhere. She's as big around as she is tall." And I'm like, "Okay."
So, I'm thinking this interview is starting off really well. He says, "Well, come on into my office," and he grabs his general mine foreman, and he grabs his safety guy. And so, these three guys are sitting in the office, and I'm sitting there. We ended up talking, you know, just standard yakking away for, I bet it was a couple of hours. Then, at the end of the interview, we stand up, and Lloyd takes one look at me, and he says, "Well, I don't hire the engineers," and I'm thinking, you just wasted two hours of my time, and you don't hire the engineers! And, he says, "Well, you got to go talk to Glenn Sides over in East Carbon." And so, I said, "Okay." And, he gives me all the information, and I'm dumb enough to say, okay, let's just go. And, when I stand up to leave, he looks at me, and he goes, "Well, at least you're big." So, that was my interview with Lloyd Miller.
Subsequent to that, I learned that general mine foreman, who was in that interview, got transferred to the office in East Carbon, which was where the engineers were hired. And, I go over, and I do sit down with Glenn Sides, and I interview with him, and that all works well. And so, I'm interviewing with him, and then I go in to interview with the assistant general mine foreman. And, this assistant general mine foreman comes in, and he's a talkative guy. It was great, anybody could talk to him. And then, the general superintendent walked in, and he's this crusty old guy, and he walks in, sits down, and Mike and I are still just back and forth and back and forth. And, Paul Watson just sits there and looks over the top of his glasses glowering at me. And, I'm just like, "Wow, who is this guy?" And finally, he looks over the top of his glasses, and he goes, "You know how to set a SPAD?" I said, "You mean a surveyance spad?" He says, "It's the only kind of SPAD I know." I said, "Yeah." And, he got up and walked out. That was the end of the interview. So, I get the job and Dick Conkle, the guy that was the general mine foreman in the interview; he and I ended up carpooling together, and he says, "You know the minute you walked out the door, Lloyd picked up the phone, called Paul Watson, and he said, if you have to hire one of ‘them’, meaning a woman, this is the one to hire." So, it was a curious interview. I've got to admit, a lot of people today would probably walk away from the situation when someone says, "I don't have any use for you working here."
But, you got the job.
But, I got the job.
17:28 FROM NEWBIE TO ENGINEER - THE TRANSITION TO KNOWING SOMETHING
So, earlier in your career, there's a point where you go from being a newbie to actually getting to the point where you think you're an engineer. Do you remember what that transition was? Was there a project where it was, you know, getting in operations and managing people, or what really got you to the point where you thought you knew what you were doing finally?
Where you transitioned to knowing something?
Working at U. S. Steel was that time, and it was because I went to work in the coal mines in 1979. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was passed in 1977, and all the States started trying to get their programs, their state delegate programs, organized. And, in Utah, which was where I was working, that happened in 1981, and I went to work for U. S. Steel in 1980. The regulatory program in Utah and Colorado was about the same time. We had a mine in Utah, and a mine in Colorado, and a coal cleaning plant in Colorado, in Utah, sorry. So, Glenn Sides, my boss, the chief engineer, decided that rather than contracting out the permitting, that we were going to do that in-house because he had this new engineer that he could put to work on it. I got going with the other guys in the department, and we did the permitting for the Wellington Coal Cleaning Plant, the Geneva Mine in Utah, and the Somerset Mine in Colorado.
I worked for U. S. Steel for five years. In the first three years or so, I did coal mine permitting exclusively and worked with the regulatory authorities to get these permits approved. Once we got the permitting done, then I ended up getting transferred to the coal cleaning plant, where I was a plant engineer. I was responsible for product quality and refuse disposal, and all that sort of thing, and all the compliance at the mine, the mine in Utah, and the coal cleaning plant. So, it was basically by the time I left U. S. Steel, and I didn't leave it because I wanted to, it was because Steel sold their Western operations to Kaiser. At that time, I was seven months pregnant with my second son, and we had heard rumors that Kaiser was going to keep the maintenance guy and the environmental guy on board. Then, they came out one day and started walking around. They figured out who the maintenance guy and the environmental guy were, and, all of a sudden, the environmental guy was seven months pregnant, and they kind of rethought that and said, "Maybe we don't need to keep the environmental guy." So, I ended up doing some consulting work for them until the baby was born. But, I think that the decision was made because I was pregnant, and they didn't want to take that on.
20:39 GOING FROM COAL MINE PLANNING TO RECLAMATION PLANNING
So, you've transitioned into where I wanted to go. You started your career off in the coal mines, but you're certainly much better known for the field of environmental and permitting. So, tell us a little more about how you transitioned into that field.
By the time I was five years out of school and I'd finished working with U. S. Steel, I had five years more experience on the permitting and environmental side than anybody on the planet because no self-respecting mining engineer wanted to do that part. That's why the new kid got to do it. So, I had more experience than anybody else.
After the kids were born, and I was out of a job, my husband was still working underground at the mines, and we were looking, watching the want ads to see what kind of jobs came up. There was a position that came open in the hard rock group at the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining, the state. So, Frank's going, "Well, you should apply for that," and I'm going, "Oh man, I really don't want to work for the state." But, you know, he wanted to get out of working underground, and if we moved to Salt Lake, there'd be better opportunity for work. And, I said, "Well, you're just as qualified for that job as I am. You should apply for it, too." So, we both applied for the same job, and, as it turned out, we later found out that we were the number one and number two candidates. Fortunately for me, he was the number one candidate and got the job. I was the number two candidate, which was perfect, because I didn't want the job, and he really did want the job because he wanted a professional job getting out of the coal mines. And, for me, I'd worked with the regulators, and I just didn't want to go there.
But, as he was working in Oil, Gas, and Mining, he got to know all the guys on the coal side, and they were all my buddies because I'd just worked with them for quite a long time. And, there was this guy who had just taken over this leasing company, and I probably shouldn't mention his name just because I think that there was a lot of litigious action that went around this story. So, I'll leave his name out of the mix. But, he had taken over this leasing company, and they had financed the buildings at a coal property, coal lease. So, the guy had picked up the coal lease and picked up these buildings by taking over, with his investor group, this leasing company that had foreclosed on these buildings.
Then, the Jordanelle Dam was starting to be built in up in the Park City area, and they needed sand and gravel. The way this coal deposit was, it was overlain by a sand and gravel deposit, and then you'd go into the underground coal seam. And, this guy, well, I should take one step back. In the state of Utah, at that time, the sand and gravel went with the surface rights, and the coal lease went with the mineral rights. They were separately regulated. So, he was out there one day on his bulldozer, and the property owners, because the property didn't belong to him (he just had the mineral rights coal lease). So, he's out there with his bulldozer pulling some gravel out, thinking he's going to make some money over at the dam, and the surface owners show up and say, "You can't do that. We own this land." And he says, "Oh no, I'm just getting access to my coal seam, so I have right of entry here." Then, the surface owners went down to Oil, Gas, and Mining and said, "You need to go talk to this guy because he's mining coal without a permit." And so, Oil, Gas, and Mining comes up and looks around and says, "What are you doing here? You're mining coal without a permit." "Oh no, I'm mining sand and gravel for the Jordanelle Dam." So, he took both sides of it-- “and you don't have jurisdiction over sand and gravel.”
25:02 ENGINEER IS A GOOD TITLE
So, he got a cease and desist order for, what was it, $30,000 a day. And, he needed to file a reclamation plan with Oil, Gas, and Mining for his coal mine that had been inappropriately developed. My buddies over at Oil, Gas, and Mining mentioned to Frank that this guy needed somebody to put a reclamation plan together, and I'd just done three of them. Nobody else had done any of them when it really came right down to it. So, it was kind of a good marriage. But it also brought on-- It was a good learning experience for me because of this guy. So, I agreed to come on board, and I'm putting together his reclamation plan for the project, and he comes down one day, and he says, "So, what do you want your title to be Barb? Do you want to be General Manager? Do you want to be Mine Superintendent? What do you want to be?" I said, "I think I'll just be Engineer. Engineer is a good title."
I wasn't very far along in my career, and, usually, when you're young and spry, you just want to get ahead and be the big boss and take on the big title. I don't know what made me say, "Just make me the Engineer." But, boy am I glad I did, because he ended up doing some interesting shenanigans shall I say. He was running a leasing company the whole time I worked there. I worked for him for two years. He never paid a dime to social security or employment tax when I was there. He would take money from one company and pay the payroll of another company, and he was just moving chess pieces all the time. Ultimately, there was a grand jury investigation into him, and I can remember when they started that grand jury investigation. The Attorney General's office was coming down to the guys in Oil, Gas, and Mining saying, "So what was this Filas person's role in this?" And my buddy, Randy Harden, the Engineer, said, "She was just the Engineer," because I had this guy sign as the President of the company, all the applications, and all I did was certify the engineering drawings and that sort of thing. So, ultimately, I heard a rumor that he ended up in jail. It was pretty clear that he had bankrupted all of his investors, and I never even got a subpoena to testify.
A shady guy in mining. Imagine that.
27:42 NO FILAS VS FILAS - MORE TRANSITIONS
So, how did you transition into what you spent a lot of your time, of your life, on, into Knight Piésold?
Well, after that incident, I was looking for yet another job, and we had decided that we wanted to move away from Utah for a variety of reasons. And Frank was done working for the government because, you know, he'd done his stint. So, there was a job opening in Grand Junction, which was my hometown, with Atlas Minerals. I applied for that job, and I think I was number two for that position, too, but the guy that actually got the job offer first failed the drug test. I was able to get in once more from the number two position. So, I went to work in Grand Junction. Frank was still working for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining at the time, so we were kind of commuting. Atlas had mines in Southwestern Colorado and Southeastern Utah, so we made a pact early on that we weren't going to sign any of the regulatory documents or letters that went into the state. It would have been Filas versus Filas because he was regulating the hard rock program, which would have been all the uranium mines, and I was working in the uranium mines in Southeastern Utah. It was always my boss who would sign off. We'd do all the work, and his boss and my boss would sign all the paperwork so that it never looked like Filas versus Filas.
29:28 ATLAS, EUREKA, AND KNIGHT PIÉSOLD
Oh, we were transitioning to Knight Piésold. I was working for Atlas, and they wanted to transfer me out to the Gold Bar mine in Eureka, Nevada. So, Atlas decided to create a position for Frank as a foreman in the mine, in the open-pit gold mine. So, that was my transition. We packed up the family and moved to Eureka where both Frank and I would work at the Gold Bar mine.
I was living in Eureka, Nevada, and, you know, that was a fun time. I mean, it was a time when the regulations, all the water pollution control programs, were being organized, and the Nevada Mining Association was very active. I was testifying in that process, and that was a lot of fun. But, living in rural Eureka, Nevada kind of started wearing on me. Don East ran Knight Piésold. And, I can remember--
I should take a step back because, when they wanted me to move to Eureka, I really didn't want to go. I was really comfortable living in Grand Junction. My kids could go to grandma's for daycare, and they loved going to grandma’s. It was really kind of a nice place, and I didn't want to go. Keith Hulley was the President of Atlas at the time. And, Keith took me aside, when he wanted me to move to Eureka, and he says, "Barb, sometimes in your career you're going to have to decide between engineering and operations because if you stay in the middle, you're going to stay on the bottom." He was trying to get me to go to operations. I'd been pretty much working in the office for most of the time. So, I said, "Okay, I'll do that," and I went out to the mine, and I was the environmental guy out at the mine. So, I don't know that I ever really was the operations guy.
Then, I spent a couple of years out at the Gold Bar Mine in Eureka, Nevada. Don was out there one day, and we're talking. We were building an expansion to our tailings area, and he wants to put in the design this under drainage system that was a herringbone design, and then a gravel layer to help de-water the tailing, so that it'd get more efficient settling and drying in the tails. So, we're in my office one day, and the guy that was managing that process wanted him to cut some costs out of the design. So, he decided he was going to take out a lot of that under drainage system out of the tailings facility. And, I'm saying, "Well, that doesn't seem like that's such a good idea." Basically, I told Don that if he could sell it to the regulators because he's getting on the board, and he's writing Q=KiA, and it's, you know, we can get the water out of here and blah, blah, blah.
I just told him, as far as I'm concerned, it's eyewash, because you get that consolidated tailings, and you get lateral drainage, but you aren't going to get a lot of vertical drainage. So, if you have a big pipe network or a smaller pipe network, as long as you have the drainage, you know, the drainage layer, you should be able to get the thing de-watered. But, if you have a network of pipes, it's going to drain better. Everybody just knows that. I said, "But if you can convince the state that it's going to work, and it's going to keep the head off the liner-" because we were using soil liners with cyanide in a cyanide containment pond. So, I don't want my liner to leak, and I don't want it to saturate my liner and go into the groundwater because then, I know I'm going to have an environmental headache. But, when I told him it was eyewash, the next thing I know, he's asking me to come to work for him.
At that time, Knight Piésold didn't have any environmental capacity. There was no one working in environmental; it was civil and geotechnical. Ultimately, when I decided to go to work for Knight Piésold, I thought I was going in to be a part of a new capability. Well, Don and Stan Dempsey got together through Stan's Denver Mining Finance company, and they formed what they called Denver Knight Piésold. It was a new environmental company, and they'd bought out Gormley Consultants, which John Gormley had what was leftover of the D'Appolonia Group in the Denver area. And, it was a group of three guys, I think, who came in, and then I kind of got shoved down John's throat because Don had already made the arrangements to hire me. And then, this deal with him and Stan worked out, and John's company got bought. So, for the first six months, I worked for John Gormley. I'd go home in the evening, and I'd tell Frank that, "God, if it weren't for Don, I wouldn't stay with this company." And, after the first six months, it'd be, "God, if it weren't for John, I wouldn't stay with this company." Don and John were great guys.
35:15 CAREER WITH KNIGHT PIÉSOLD
Talk a little bit about your years with, how long were you with Knight Piésold? And, I know you basically built a pretty good business there, so let's talk a little bit about your career with those guys.
Yes. Well, Knight Piésold was, and let me circle back to when I left Atlas. I can remember going up, telling Keith Hulley. We had a board meeting that I'd given a presentation that I'd kind of tendered my resignation right about that time. And, Keith, who had told me you've got to pick between engineering and operations; if you stay in the middle, you stay on the bottom-- I went back to Keith and said, "Now I've really decided that I am going to do the engineering piece. It's your advice that got me here. It's your advice that got me out."
So, I moved to Denver and worked with John Gormley. And, John was a great guy to work with, but his background was different than mine. It was at a time when the Nevada gold mining industry was very much booming. I went to work for Knight Piésold in 1989, and it was crazy booming in Nevada. I had been working in Nevada since the law was written, and John hadn't worked much in Nevada at all. Sometimes we'd have to butt heads a little bit because he was my boss, and he wanted to review everything. John was a good micromanager. He's a dear friend of mine even to this day, but he was so careful, and he would change “in” to “with” in a report, you know, that kind of detail. And so it was difficult to get things done. I got to the point where I'd say, "Okay, here's the document that we're going to issue. The client’s already reviewed it and is happy with it. You do your review, and then we'll get it out later this afternoon." So, he didn't have the opportunity to change “in” to “with”. [Laughs] But yes. And at Knight Piésold, over time, we grew the environmental capacity. It started with a guy, you know, John and one other guy and me in Denver. And then, there was one guy in Wyoming, who we didn't have a lot of direct interaction with, and he ultimately went off on his own. But, we grew that group. And, ultimately, I took over the environmental group at Knight Piésold. And, I turned into John when it came down to being a micromanager.
38:16 A GOOD AHA MOMENT
One of my epiphany moments in my career was when I was busy trying to keep-- I was managing all the projects. I had hired a bunch of young, really sharp young people to help me with the work that we were doing. And, one day, I looked up from my office, and I saw three of these guys literally lined up outside my office waiting to come in and get me to make a call on something they were working on. And, my epiphany moment was, “Wow, if that was me standing in that line, I'd be looking for another job!” Well, I can tell you that all three of those guys-- One of them is like the Assistant Attorney General in Colorado. She went back and got a law degree. One of them is running the NEPA program for Wood Environmental Consultants, and one of them has been doing independent consulting on her own supporting her family for years. They're all very, very capable people. And, I was the one who was doing what my boss drove me crazy doing. I didn't realize I was doing it myself until I saw them outside my office that day. It was a good aha moment.
39:34 NEARLY 20 YEARS - A LOT OF TIME WITH KNIGHT PIÉSOLD
So, a lot of time with Knight Piésold; how many years?
Just shy of 20. It was kind of an interesting process. We went through globalization in, I think it was in, the late nineties or early two-thousands. I don't remember the dates exactly, but we globalized the company. We didn't consolidate the company. All the companies that used to be like Knight Piésold in the United States was a Colorado corporation, and in Canada, it was whatever they do in Canada, and Australia was whatever they do in Australia. But, we all had the name Knight Piésold. To our clients, they logically thought we were all Knight Piésold. So, we decided to build an overarching group, kind of similar to what AIME is to the member societies of AIME. So, we have this overarching group called Knight Piésold Holdings Limited, that all the companies were affiliated with, and that gave us our common name. It gave us a board of directors, and I sat on the board of directors for KPHIL. Don East, who started the practice in the United States, became the global CEO. One of my partners, in fact, it was my interviewer's brother, Jim Arnold, who became the president of the U. S. Practice of Knight Piésold.
I will have you know that Tim and I have been friends for many, many years. His mother, at my wedding, told me that she wished that I would've married one of her sons. I said Jim, when we became business partners, that this was the next best thing that we could have done for their mom is just be business partners because that was as close as we were really ever going to get to being married.
- 1 About Barbara A. Filas
- 2 Further Reading
- 3 About the Interview
- 4 Copyright Statement
- 5 Interview
- 5.1 PART 1
- 5.2 00:00 INTRODUCTION
- 5.3 00:49 FROM GRAND JUNCTION TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA…WITH MY PIANO
- 5.4 02:29 INFLUENCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO BECOME A MINING ENGINEER
- 5.5 03:35 FAMILY BACKGROUND IN MINING AND A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
- 5.6 06:20 LANDING FIRST PROFESSIONAL JOB WITH EXXON
- 5.7 08:43 UNDERGROUND COAL MINE PLANNING - A WHOLE NEW EXPERIENCE
- 5.8 10:31 STRIKING OUT TO MAKE MY OWN NAME IN THE INDUSTRY
- 5.9 12:32 BEING A WOMAN IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY
- 5.10 17:28 FROM NEWBIE TO ENGINEER - THE TRANSITION TO KNOWING SOMETHING
- 5.11 20:39 GOING FROM COAL MINE PLANNING TO RECLAMATION PLANNING
- 5.12 25:02 ENGINEER IS A GOOD TITLE
- 5.13 27:42 NO FILAS VS FILAS - MORE TRANSITIONS
- 5.14 29:28 ATLAS, EUREKA, AND KNIGHT PIÉSOLD
- 5.15 35:15 CAREER WITH KNIGHT PIÉSOLD
- 5.16 38:16 A GOOD AHA MOMENT
- 5.17 39:34 NEARLY 20 YEARS - A LOT OF TIME WITH KNIGHT PIÉSOLD
- 5.18 PART 2