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Interview: Evidence-based insight

In November University of Portsmouth visiting research fellow Kevin Privett will deliver the 19th Glossop Medal Lecture. Claire Smith met him to find out more about the focus of the lecture and the story behind the topic.

“I generally view the Glossop Lecture as a good day out and a great opportunity to meet up with friends in the industry,” says University of Portsmouth visiting research fellow Kevin Privett. “The Glossop Lecture is a more practical event that provide informative insight into other’s work and gives the opportunity to learn.”

kevin privett aug 18

kevin privett aug 18

Kevin Privett will deliver the 19th Glossop Medal Lecture on 14 November

Nonetheless, Privett still seems humbled to have been selected as this year’s Glossop Medal winner which will see him deliver the 19th Glossop Lecture at the Royal Institution in London on 14 November. “It is an honour to be asked to deliver the Glossop Lecture,” he says. “I was on the committee for the Engineering Group of the Geological Society and chairman for a time too so I have seen it from the other side.”

Privett believes he is one of a very few non-academics to deliver the lecture.

After being approached to deliver the 19th event in September last year, Privett considered a number of subjects.

“I have accumulated a lifetime of experience to draw on but as a practising engineer and a consultant,” he says. “However, I’m not a specialist in one area, I’d describe myself as more of a generalist.”

While Privett retains a post with University of Portsmouth, he retired just over two years ago from Hydrock and he has had a varied career.

“I started out in engineering geology but from 1990 onwards I got involved in contaminated land work and swapped between the two until I retired,” he explains.

“I knew my topic for the lecture had to be a spin on my consultancy experience.”

Privett also considered what people like to hear. “They like to learn about case histories,” he says.

The final title that Privett settled on is The lines of evidence approach to challenges face in engineering geological practice.

Privett says that he has already selected his key case histories for the lecture but is still fine tuning the content.

The concept for the lecture follows on from a paper on the engineering geology of the UK by Peter Fookes that was published in QJEG last year.

“In the paper, Fookes says that ‘at the end of the 1970s, engineering geology had become a discipline in its own right but that’s another story’,” says Privett. “My lecture aims to take up that story.”

Privett says that he felt it was additionally appropriate because Fookes was not just the first Glossop Lecturer in 1997 but Fookes was also involved in his PhD at the University of Bristol that looked at the engineering geology of slopes in the south Cotswolds, which Privett completed in 1980.

There are three elements to Privett’s lecture – he will look at the influence of working with multiple disciplines, the importance of knowledge and experience and the lessons of the past.

Privett’s career started with degree in geology at University of Bristol in the late 1970s before he progressed onto his PhD.

His first role in industry was working with Sir Robert McAlpine where he was the only geotechnical engineer in the business. “I got involved in all sorts of projects from tenders to claims and problems on site,” he says. “It was definitely in at the deep end.”

Privett says that he used to go to lots of ground engineering events and lecture to network with others in the sector, which helped him to gain experience and connections.

Privett then joined Golders in Swansea in the early 1990s before moving to Applied Geology, which resulted in the start of his work in contaminated land, before joining SRK as a mining consultant. “I wanted to get more involved with civils, so I joined Hydrock in 2004 and worked there until I retired,” he says.

Looking back on his career, Privett says that he got involved in lots of project but always on the technical side rather than the managerial.

The focus of his lecture has come about through his career experience.

“Put together, I think they are the things that an engineering geologist needs,” he says. “The main thing that links some of these experience is random element in all this – most of it was driven by the client’s choice. It is rare to get to follow your own interests.”

He says he is aiming to bring the 40 years of Fookes’ “other story” into context using his experience.

There will be three main case histories presented and these cover both engineering geology and contaminated land and aim to illustrate that there is often no standard approach and engineers must use multiple lines of evidence to consider the right solution.

port solent marina chalk earthworks

port solent marina chalk earthworks

Use of Chalk as fill material for Solent Marina is one of the case studies that Privett will present

“The first will look at the decontamination of cryogenic gas storage tanks at Canvey Island,” he says. “We were looking to backfill these with marine dredged sand but it had never been done before and we needed to develop a method statement for placement. But we also had to consider the volume of sand needed and, if the sand was damp from dredging, would it freeze during placement?”

According to Privett, this work demonstrated to him that there was more to being an engineering geologist than lectures – it is about continuous learning.

“There was no previous experience of the problem and no standard method,” he says.

The second case history also looks a project where the existing method statements just did not work for the problem at hand – placing 600,000m3 of Chalk fill under water to create the Port Solent Marina.

“We were placing it in winter too and the developer wanted to avoid use of piles for the house foundations,” says Privett.

He brought in Chalk specialist Rory Mortimore to work with him on the project and it involved laboratory and full scale trials on site to develop a low compaction fill specification to use the Chalk as rock fill.

The final site looks at how adding additional lines of evidence can create better understanding of the ground model and means that previous concepts need to be discarded.

“Our client was looking at constructing a gas storage facility within the salt layers of the Triassic rocks on the Isle of Portland,” explains Privett. “The project was planned to use the former HMS Osprey site to drill down into the caverns but there was a concern about the impact of landslides on the plan. There was a concern that, even with shut off valves, ground movement could crush the pipes and result in release of gas.

“Denys Brunsden, who is also a past Glossop Medal winner, worked as part of a team that look at the site in 1996 and concluded that the deep seated ground movement was being triggered by the Kimmeridge Clay at the base being squeezed out by the weight of the overlying Portland stone.”

Privett’s team used geophysics – deep and shallow – limit state modelling and detailed coring to prove that the ground movement was shallower than previous thought and that depressions seen at surface were actually the result of syncline, not ground movement.

“The previous understanding was based on the available evidence but the greater lines of evidence gave a better view on the problem.”

Privett hopes that his lecture will entertain the audience. He says that the focus is aimed at early career engineers who perhaps haven’t yet had much formal training and have limited experience.

“I’d like younger engineers to go away and think laterally about the problems they are working on and take their time to consider the issues,” he says. “I realise this is challenging in the fee-paying environment but engineers must look at all the lines of evidence to find the right answer.”

Privett says that if he was to offer advice to his younger self it would be just that – take care, ask questions and take time.

“We need to resist clients who want a cheap and quick answer,” he says.

“The industry must take care and pay attention to detail, as well as be transparent in its record keeping. We must accept that conceptual models will change as more evidence is gathered and be open minded about the change.”

Privett calls on engineers to be their own critic. “Courage and conviction is important,” he says. “You must speak out if you think something is wrong.”



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