February 2014

Taking a chance on new tech

Cost reduction will loom large for juniors at PDAC 2014

By Eavan Moore

The junior exploration companies that attend the 2014 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention will have survived a punishing year when it comes to securing capital. With money harder to come by, these juniors face pressures to cut their costs yet continue their work. “It is in these times that the adage ‘Innovate or Die’ carries particular relevance,” said Vida Ramin, PDAC’s program director for lands and regulations.

This year’s PDAC Innovation Forum will feature demonstrations of advanced technologies and cover em­erging areas of interest like renewable energy and four-dimensional geographic information systems (4D GIS). Geometrics Inc. will present its new electromagnetic tool Geode EM3D, for instance, and Spectral Evolution will share its latest take on field spectrometry, which can help screen drill core and check remote sensing results.

A few explorers have already answered the call to innovate. Yukon service provider GroundTruth Exploration employs a high-resolution direct current resistivity survey that gives a rough sense of a target’s structure up to 100 metres deep. To follow up on that, the company invented a device it calls a “geoprobe,” a 900-kilogram track-mounted direct push unit that forces a sampling tube into the ground. The geoprobe covers ground nearly three times faster than trench excavation, while eliminating the cost of reclamation. Two helicopter slingloads can transport the equipment, which is an obvious plus in Yukon. GroundTruth is also experimenting with using the same platform for rotary air blast drills that can also be efficiently transported with two helicopter sling loads and are mobile with rubber tracks on the ground, offering opportunities to avoid $500-per-metre diamond drilling. President Isaac Fage said he expected the cost of running track-mounted drills to come in at a fraction of the cost of diamond drilling.

For a company that already has more data than it can handle, better analysis could speed up a discovery. Marcel Robillard, president and CEO of Puma Exploration, said his company recently found high-grade copper in a target zone identified using a software product called CARDS, or computer aided resources detection system. Puma had signed a roughly $40,000 contract with CARDS’ developer Diagnos to search its exploration data for areas with properties similar to those of known mineralizations. Robillard said his team made its discovery after a week of prospecting one of the suggested targets.

Saving money was not Puma’s reason for using CARDS, however. Robillard agrees that a junior trying to cut costs should be looking at trying new technologies, but noted that thorough fieldwork comes first. “If you try to save costs, and they charge you $40,000 to do the survey but you don’t have any money left to do the work on that target, it doesn’t make sense to spend that money,” he said.

Consulting geologist Robin Adair has observed that juniors are more frequently committing to partnerships with contractors on research and development projects. “There’s likely opportunities to do a mutual benefit type of arrangement, where you bring a technology that needs to be proven or field tested onto a project,” he said. “Both sides incur part of the cost and share the potential benefits.”

At PDAC, Jane Hammarstrom of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will report findings from the first Global Mineral Resource Assessment, which identified deposits of copper, platinum group elements and potash.

Paul Dockweiler, chief geologist and project manager at Cardno ATC, thinks some younger geologists tend to undervalue the information provided by governments and free content providers. He has used a number of no-cost tools, including Google Earth and digital photography, to get clues about formation structures. “I’ve used Google Earth to locate major fault lines that were previously unmapped and used that to locate certain structures like bedding planes,” he said. “I can manipulate digital photos on my computer, change the lighting, colours or contrast, and bring out things in the rock that are almost impossible to see just standing out in the field looking at it.”

If companies can afford to spend money, Dockweiler suggested they hire a consultant with access to three-dimensional modelling tools, which he suspects not enough juniors use. Plugging in existing data can help model which drill locations and angles will be most efficient, thus cutting down on the number of holes drilled.

But he cautioned against turning to technology as a saviour: “Innovation can be born out of a stagnant market or a stagnant industry, but the people that come up with these innovations expect to get paid for them. I think the most valuable thing a junior could do is have some guys go out there and start mapping and sampling the old-fashioned way.”

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