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One rock, two geologists, three answers…


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Jan 19, 2024
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Sarah Gordon

‘Geologists are inherently comfortable with uncertainty. That’s what our degrees and our experience are in – we never really truly know what’s going on underneath the surface of the Earth, unless we go down there and have a look.’

Sarah Gordon is Managing Director of the risk management consultancy Satarla, as well as Honorary Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London. She is also the Geological Society’s incoming Secretary for Foreign and External Affairs – looking after all our outward facing activities, including public statements, media relations, policy and education.

Risk and uncertainty are part of a geologist’s every day experience – as our President Malcolm Brown explained earlier this year to launch the Society’s Year of Risk.

‘I’ve heard the “one rock, two geologists, three answers” saying a lot’ says Sarah. ‘It’s basically the frustration of other professions with geologists! If, for example, someone wants to finance a mining project, they want to know exactly what’s under the ground before they give you their money. Whereas, no geologist can give a really definitive answer. You always want to give a range of answers, or a story.’

Week of Risk​

As part of the Year of Risk, the Geological Society is teaming up with the Institute of Risk Management for a week of conferences exploring the role geologists can play in the management of risk, and what lessons we can learn from other sectors.

The first of these, ‘Managing Risks across the Mining and Oil and Gas Lifecycle’ is taking place at Imperial College on 10-12 July. ‘We start off with the extractive sector’ says Sarah, who is co-convening the events. ‘The mining and oil and gas sectors both have the luxury of being able to go down and have a look at what the rocks are doing underneath the surface, and both have very similar value chains – looking for the right rocks, thinking about extracting them and then processing and selling them. The conference is all about exploring the risks that both sectors share, and the ways in which they’re managed – so learning from each other.’

The programme was planned following a survey carried out via LinkedIn, asking as many as possible what they thought the biggest risks are to mining and oil and gas.

‘We got back a range of different answers, as you can imagine’ says Sarah, ‘but some of the key answers were risks around investing, managing our waste for the long term and subsurface risks.

‘And then there’s the question of geoethics – for example, just because a rock is in a particular country and contains minerals that have value, does that mean we should go and dig them out of the ground? Geoethics ties together the physical world and the human world.’

Sharing an Uncertain World​

The second conference of the week takes place on 13-14 July at the Geological Society. ‘Sharing an Uncertain World: Lessons in Managing Risk’ brings together Earth scientists and practitioners from a range of other sectors to share experiences, practices and technologies to collectively learn how we can better manage risk.

‘We’ve invited experts from everything from military and aviation to earthquakes and volcanoes, to explore how different sectors and professions perceive risk and deal with it. We all think it means something slightly different – so the question is how can geoscience, and geoscientists, feed into that, as a profession?’

With speakers ranging from the Head of Communications at the Church of England, to experts in mega tsunamis, aviation and AI, it promises to be a fascinating week of discussions and workshops. Registration is still open for both conferences – visit their respective webpages for more information.

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