Hall went to the University of Toronto and then the University of Calgary studying biology, physics and then geophysics. She shared some career highlights and industry insights in this exclusive interview.
MDC: What led you to a career in mining?
Hall: It was geophysics that kind of lit my fire. I spent 12 years studying geophysics and came out the other side knowing how to do the science of the earth but without the context of humanities and climate change and geopolitics. I felt really lost and I think a lot of students feel this way coming out of university where they learn the kind of the ins and outs of the science that they’re studying, but they’re not given a lot of context. I went into environmental geophysics and hated it because [it was] like we celebrated oil spills because it meant money for our company.
I went from there into potash mining in Saskatchewan and really loved that. It was fantastic being 2 kilometres underground inside a salt formation and being able to hear the walls moving around me. I worked for Potash Corp, and I was underground in Jansen and I was a consultant for a mining geophysics company. We would guide the miners around hazards underground using subsurface imaging information.
I spent 18 years in oil and gas with the purpose of learning what all the problems were. I wanted to get neck deep in the problems and then try to find solutions using my knowledge as a geophysicist. I knew my path was going to be ugly going into the oil and gas sector and mining. I did oil sands. I did a frack[ing] and heavy oil production. Three very different means of producing resources and then underground potash mining, again totally different. I got my feet wet in a lot of different asset areas and then one day, just kind of looked at the future of energy and saw the energy transition coming.
I went to Tibet by myself. I saw a monk pull a cell phone out of his pocket at the top of a mountain and thought, ‘I need to be in lithium.’ I was all by myself in a monastery with a monk and it just like my brain caught fire. There are a couple of companies trying to extract lithium from produced brine from oil fields, but we don’t, we never even tried. We ran the economic models and said we can do better if we go to South America where it’s the big leagues. We have a facility in Santiago where customers are bringing brines to us to process. In that facility we have 6 pilot partners, but we just JV’d with an Argentinian mining company to own our first asset.
MDC: How have you seen that industry change and evolve over the years?
Hall: It’s interesting now that strategic partnerships are looking for women led, diverse companies that are good with indigenous relations and following government protocol and meeting ESG standards. Those are almost basic now, whereas 10-20 years ago it didn’t exist. It was kind of like ‘pillage’ and make sure it’s all the men doing it, not the women, it was totally different mentality. I’ve seen a huge shift personally, the way women are respected today, it’s very different.
MDC: What challenges and opportunities for women do you see in the mining space?
Hall: I see that there’s a lot more opportunity for women to work in data analytics and machine learning and artificial intelligence — ways for women to come in and not only improve the extraction process, but improve the operations themselves so that the data is working for us in a way that we optimize yield and energy use and its less about brawn and strength and more about your brain. I think that there’s a huge opportunity for women in the mining sector because of data and how data is being unleashed.
When you’ve got women doing the child raising, its easier to do at home when you’re working through a computer and doing data analytics on your laptop instead of being in the field with a shovel. Back in the day I wrecked my back from traipsing around the field carrying heavy equipment when I was a younger geophysicist, and today you just don’t have to do that anymore. There’s means to leave the heavy work to machines, and you have the brain work being done by the humans back behind the desk. That’s changed a lot.
Challenges, I would say are still that we’re humans — we’re primates and we still get that aggressive sexual energy from men even now. And you can just feel in a meeting when something inappropriate is said; there’s a shift in the way that women interact with men if something is said out loud. And unfortunately, that still happens. I don’t know if it will ever go away.
MDC: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about the mining industry?
Hall: I’m not going to say the ‘haters’, but [there are] people that just don’t believe in technology and the ability of technology to make a difference. There’s a book called Innovation and its Enemies. You see that in mining, you see innovation being attempted, but then the enemies of innovation come in and try to shut you down. It’s usually the people that are getting paid by doing it the old way.
And it’s the misconception that an elegant technical solution will never work. We’re here to prove that wrong.