Moving forward from the Bre-X fiasco of the 1990s, Deborah McCombe has seen public trust in mineral project disclosure grow over the last decade, thanks in large part to her work within CIM and on CRIRSCO, an international volunteer committee of national reporting organizations, tasked with harmonizing the way exploration results and mineral resources and reserves are reported worldwide. CRIRSCO-style codes, and the inclusion of a Qualified Person, mean that investors can compare projects anywhere in the world. At home, McCombe helped set the highest standard for mineral project disclosure in Canada’s securities law, National Instrument 43-101.
A professional geoscientist, McCombe started her career as a field geologist on mineral properties in Newfoundland and Ontario, held by the paper company that became Abitibi Price. She then began to do more international work with a consulting engineering firm. Her global experience, combined with a stint as chief mining consultant at the Ontario Securities Commission, gave her a background well-suited to working on international disclosure standards.
When McCombe volunteered to join John Postle, co-chair of the CIM Reserves Definition Committee, in representing CIM on CRIRSCO in 2002, she says, “I enjoyed my first CRIRSCO meeting so much and the dedicated group of people who were involved that I just had to stay on.” She brought with her an ability to build consensus. “All of the chairs at CRIRSCO have had the ability to include all viewpoints and make sure we move forward on the issues.”
That is not easy in a group that spans Canada, the United States, Chile, UK/Europe, South Africa, Australasia, and, as of 2011, Russia. “There are some strong opinions,” says McCombe. “And that makes for lively discussions at some of our meetings. It’s in the discussion of the issues, and how they’ve been handled in different countries, that we end up finding a resolution. We generally arrive at something that we can all live with.”
CRIRSCO continues to work on uniting more countries through disclosure codes. Its members are working with representatives from Mongolia, have started discussions with Turkey and several South American countries, and have recommended the United Nations adopt CRIRSCO’s template as the basis for its solid minerals classifications. CRIRSCO has been advising the International Accounting Standards Board on the use of mineral resources and mineral reserves for financial reporting purposes. CRIRSCO members are also in the process of aligning their own codes.
McCombe is the committee’s only female representative. As more women enter the fields of geology and mining engineering, they will have more opportunities to be involved on the international scene, she suggests. She cannot think of a way in which being a woman slowed her down. “There were certainly not many female field geologists when I graduated, however, in the course of my career, I have not had barriers to advancement.” Her husband was supportive of her work, helping raise the children jointly. “Starting from graduation, I was fortunate to have mentors in the industry as well,” she adds.
“For men and women alike, there’s a whole world of opportunities in the mining business, and it’s just that they may not always be aware of different projects or have the opportunity to move to different positions,” she comments. Her advice for anyone in the industry: “I think people should find their area of interest and passion and follow it. Interest and passion are the keys.”