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Optimizing Geophysical Data Management

Barrick Gold adopts a targeted solution for sharing its geophysical exploration data and knowledge, locally and globally

By Carmela Burns

As the world’s largest gold producer, Barrick has maintained its lead by keeping a sharp focus on discovery - constantly exploring for new reserves to replace production. Being the best at finding those new deposits is a key driver behind the company’s efforts to organize its rich resources of exploration data, and make data more readily available to project teams leading the discovery effort.

Barrick has amassed huge amounts of data over its 27 years of existence. Up to 80% of the data utilized across the lifecycle of a project exploration lifecycle, from initial exploration and appraisal to development, production and closure, is geospatial data. In the first few stages of the lifecycle, it’s primarily geoscientific datasets – with geophysics and geology being the two major sources of information that define sub-surface structure and conditions. Engineering data is used mainly in the development, production, and decommissioning stages.

To ensure the data is fully utilized throughout the lifecycle, Barrick has established a strategy to better organize and serve its geospatial data throughout the company. The initiative has provided an opportunity to take a fresh look at their data management practices, and target opportunities to optimize how datasets are found and utilized within their exploration team.

Improving geophysical data management at Barrick’s Elko operation in Nevada presented just such a targeted opportunity.

Freeing up geophysical exploration resources

Within large exploration companies, it’s not unusual to have a few geophysical specialists generating analysis, interpretations and other products from geophysical data for global exploration projects.

Airborne and ground geophysical surveys provide a wealth of information that supports prospect generation, aids target selection and helps project geologists make quicker and less risky decisions. Finding, reformatting and importing the large geophysical databases and grids, to make them useful for projects, often involves multiple steps and  consumes time that’s better spent developing knowledge to support discovery.

When Barrick’s exploration division decided to implement a new geophysical data management solution in Elko, Nevada, they wanted to free their geophysicists to focus on discovery by improving the way data is stored, searched and retrieved.

Elko is the exploration office closest to Barrick’s Goldstrike mining complex along the Carlin Trend, the most prolific gold mining district in North America. Goldstrike, first developed in the 1980s, consists of one open pit mine and two underground mines along the same mineralized trend. Exploration by Barrick on the property has been ongoing for about 25 years.

While the data at Elko were well managed overall, manual processes meant that the geophysicists were spending a significant portion of their day searching for data, and preparing it to meet the requirements of data consumers within the organization.

“We had the opportunity to start from scratch, and we had a manageable volume of geophysical data, most of it already online in Geosoft Databases, Geosoft Grid or ERMapper Grid formats” says Jared Townsend, one of two geophysicists in the Elko office, and a project lead for the Geophysical information management solution .

“We felt we could improve overall productivity by organizing our data within a server environment, where we could automatically deal with things like validation, QA and metadata entry for data management, and re-projection of data for efficient project use,” said Townsend.

Creating a Central Repository

Barrick partnered with Geosoft to plan and implement their geophysical Exploration Information Management Solution (EIMS), based on the company’s experience with geophysical workflows, and its DAP Server technology which is designed to store and serve up large geophysical and exploration datasets.

Elko’s geophysical data was catalogued within a centralized DAP Server environment which included built-in validation and automated metadata tools. Data quality assurance was an important focus in the initial phase of deployment. Although the data was well managed, the built-in validation system identified pockets of data that were inaccessible or lacked associated metadata.

Once all the data were validated and organized within a central repository, Barrick gained an enriched dataset, better data integrity through the built-in validation structure, and a system for providing efficient, global access to the database.

Improving knowledge sharing and retention

With significant volumes of historical data collected over years of active exploration in Nevada, the new solution has provided Barrick with the ability to retain and share exploration knowledge as well as data.

The geophysical EIMS has allowed existing staff to delve into ongoing projects and historical data, on-demand.  It has made it easier to bring new team members up to speed on available data resources for active projects. There’s also no more risk of losing project information stored on individual desktops, or losing project momentum, should team members be reassigned to a different project or regional office.

“We have a data system that’s well organized and easily shared across the organization, so that even if a geophysicist was to transfer offices or move on to another project someone else would be able to come in and pick up where they left off,” says Townsend. “It's a data resource that we can all use as required.”

Efficiencies gained

The key motivation for this solution was to free Barrick’s Elko-based geophysics team to focus on assessing targets and making discoveries instead of finding and handling data. Has it delivered?

With the new solution, geophysicists at Elko and those from Barrick’s other exploration offices around the world have been able to access the Elko data faster, through a secure, self-serve environment for the first time.

One of the main advantages of the geophysical EIMS is that metadata is no longer stored separately in a TAB file, but is integrated with the data, streamlining manual metadata capture, validation and management.

The ISO-compliant metadata solution includes a tool for creating metadata that ensures descriptors are stored with the data in standard XML format as well as in a master SQL database that enables fast cataloguing and searching, and provides scalability.

As a result, the geophysicists have direct access to the metadata associated with geophysical surveys, and can now devote the time and resources used to capture and handle metadata to more valuable work.

Another benefit of the solution is greater security through an access tool that prevents data from being mistakenly deleted. Standardizing data management processes, and automating manual procedures, has further reduced the risk of human errors, promoting a high level of confidence in the data being delivered.

Prospects for the future

It is expected that the observations and learnings at Elko will benefit Barrick geophysical exploration teams in other regions, including Perth and Santiago. The company is considering expansion of their geophysical EIMS to incorporate geophysical data in other regions. “Following the successful implementation of the geophysical EIMS in Elko Exploration, we are looking to extend the system to our regional office in Perth,” said Barry Bourne, Chief Geophysicist, Global Exploration.

With the new system in place, it is now possible to spatially reference all the geophysical surveys, allowing the geophysics team and exploration managers to know what data exists in reference to a geographic location. This will be especially useful when assessing new prospects within the area.

Barrick’s new geophysical EIMS in Elko is a good example of how mining exploration companies can adopt a targeted solution to their data management challenges that saves both time and aggravation and, ultimately, increases their odds of exploration success both locally and globally.

“It’s a big advantage to have all of our data in one place, referenced and accessible from around the globe and in the field,” says Townsend.