Todd Keay (BA '83, EES)
Hydrogeologist for North and South American copper mines
After he graduated from high school, Todd Keay was driving a truck to deliver clothing throughout South Jersey. His trips through the Pine Barrens began piquing his interest in the natural environment. But after he entered Temple, the Haddonfield, N.J., resident still was not sure about his major—until he took an introductory geology course with Peter Goodwin, former professor and Geology Department chair. One field trip took Keay’s class to the undeveloped southern tip of New Jersey’s Long Beach Island. They looked at the rippled sand in the surf zone and worked their way back through the dunes and into the muddy sediments of the bay, digging into and analyzing sedimentary layers. “We could see the beginning of the rock record,” he recalls.
The next week they explored a quarry near Exton, Pa. “It was quartzite, lithified beach sand, and we could see all those ripples and worm burrows we had seen the previous week,” says Keay. “It was an example of the same sediments, but hundreds of millions of years old. I just went on from there.”
Where he went was Arizona. For the past 27 years he has been a hydrogeologist with Tucson consulting firm Errol L. Montgomery Associates, where he is now a partner. His main focus is groundwater- and surface water-related mining issues, particularly regarding copper mines. His assignments include assessing possible groundwater contamination, mitigating and/or minimizing and controlling such contamination, and developing the water resources necessary to process the minerals.
A new copper mine typically costs $2 to $6 billion to develop. Regardless of whether it is in Arizona or Argentina, Bolivia or Peru, a proposed mine must pass regulatory muster, meet with local approval and obtain necessary funding. Increasingly, these milestones depend on whether Keay’s team can demonstrate that the mine can be operated in an environmentally responsible manner.
“What I like best about my job is building a team that puts all the pieces together to help understand and guide how the proposed operations will impact the ground- and surface-water systems, and how those systems will impact the mining operations,” says Keay. “I love being outside, being in the field, interacting with local people, spending months living not as a tourist but as someone trying to help build something that, hopefully, will benefit the local population.”
In short, Keay says, “I love seeing different parts of the world, and hydrology helps me do that.”
–Bruce E. Beans