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Repeat discoverers share their secrets

by Virginia Heffernan on March 15, 2012 Expertise

If there’s one thing PDAC conference organizers excel at, it’s convincing international experts to drop everything and travel to Toronto to share their knowledge in the inhospitable month of March. In keeping with that tradition, some of world’s best exploration geologists gathered as a panel at PDAC 2012 to discuss what makes them repeat discovers when the majority of their peers spend their whole careers looking for, but never quite finding, an orebody. Here is some of their advice:

Sample, Sample, Sample
This should be every field geologist’s mantra, says Ronald Parratt, who played a significant role in the discovery of the Lone Tree and Trenton Canyon gold mines in Nevada. You can learn a lot about the geology and mineralization of an area by taking copious soil, stream and rock samples. With modern exploration tools and data management programs, finding patterns in the results has become easier and more accurate.

Cultivate your skill in being wrong
If you are not willing to make mistakes, then you will never find a mine. David Lowell of Escondida and Pierina fame reckons that his “most outstanding talent” is being good at being wrong.

Drill as soon, and as much, as possible
Management and board fatigue means that geologists rarely get to nurture a project as long as they’d like to. Get the drills in the ground and use a shotgun approach if appropriate to extract the most information as possible for the lowest price. Lowell says he wouldn’t have found Escondida without importing RC drills into Chile to run a dense program of shotgun drilling.

Be prepared to adjust your business model
Mining is a cyclical business and sometimes you have to be flexible to respond to changing metal prices, financing challenges, or new expertise. A good example is consulting firm Archer, Cathro & Associates, which started out providing project management for underground exploration in 1966, evolved into a successful grass roots explorer (Casino & Wolverine in the Yukon) and has worn several other hats along the way including small-scale silver producer, junior mining company and a “mini merchant bank” for other juniors.

Use your intuition
Mineral exploration is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with 60% of the pieces missing, says Hunter Dickinson’s Bob Schafer. Use your intuition and experience to recognize patterns and footprints when faced with minimal or imperfect info.

Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out.
When management told Mark Rebagliati not to collar any holes east of the Pebble pit outline for environmental reasons, he worked around that directive by moving his drill inside the proposed pit walls and drilling east from there. The deposit he discovered, Pebble East, now contains more than three billion tonnes of ore grading 1% copper and is considered one of the biggest mineralized copper systems in the world.

Thanks to Rob Carne of ATAC Resources (formerly of Archer Cathro), Bob Schafer and Mark Rebagliati of Hunter Dickinson, David Lowell of CIC Resources, John Morganti of Morganti Advisors, Ronald Parratt of Renaissance Gold and Vic Wall of Vic Wall & Associates for sharing your considerable expertise.