February 2012

Decisions, decisions

Mark Rebagliati has made a lot of good ones

By Graham Lanktree

Pound for pound, Mark Rebagliati has easily brought home more precious metal than his son, Olympic snowboarding gold medallist Ross Rebagliati. In a mineral exploration career spanning 40 years, the executive vice-president of exploration at Hunter Dickinson Incorporated (HDI) has unearthed and won awards for some of the largest discoveries in Canada and around the world. But exploration has changed by leaps and bounds, and Rebagliati plans to inspire the next generation of prospectors to keep bringing home the gold by sharing some secrets of his success at this year’s PDAC conference in a talk titled, “Stick your neck out and make a decision!

CIM: In your current position at HDI, how different is your world today compared to when you started in geology?
Rebagliati: In the mid-1960s, I knocked on a lot of doors to get in with a junior mining company and ended up spending a summer in the bush with Anaconda Copper. I liked it because I got a free helicopter ride out into the wild to go exploring. Now I have to sneak that in whenever I get the chance.

My position puts me in charge of HDI’s exploration programs worldwide. So I’m often handling four to eight projects simultaneously. Usually, I’m sitting down with 20 to 30 of our geologists discussing the geological aspects of each project to formulate exploration.

CIM: Why did you choose the title “Stick your neck out and make a decision!” for your upcoming talk at the PDAC conference?
Rebagliati: You could play it safe all your life as a prospector hunting for mineral deposits by playing the odds and saying “no” to every hunch or risk – and there’s a good chance you might be right. But sometimes the only way you’re going to make a big discovery is if you stick your neck out with an informed guess.

CIM: Is there a time when you did just stick your neck out?
Rebagliati: My work in the Pebble East prospect in Alaska was a great challenge. We needed to find higher grade mineralization, but there was a decision made that we couldn’t use our drills to test beyond the ultimate pit line that was drawn up. From my perspective, it was a no-brainer to keep following the intensity of quartz veining that was increasing to the east. So we set up on the edge of the pit limit and I drilled a hole at a 60-degree angle beyond.

That hole led to the discovery of more than five billion tonnes of mineralization we were looking for at double the grade found elsewhere at the site. The find turned Pebble into the third largest gold resource in the world.

CIM: Doesn’t exploration technology take a lot of the guesswork out of choosing the right target these days?
Rebagliati: Not in my view. We have to look deeper all the time, and very often we’re assessing near-surface features for what we’ll find hundreds of metres below. We’re constantly pushing the limit of what we can see and our knowledge of how mineral deposits form.

CIM: What are a few of the key points you’ll touch on at PDAC?
Rebagliati: Assemble the best technical team you can when exploring. Not everyone will have all the required skills, but gather a group that has a full cross-section of what you’ll need. Listen to what the experts in your team say, but be firm on your decisions. When things are looking good, push the limits. And when it looks like things aren’t working out, pull the drills and save your resources for another target.

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