The people, science and technology behind discovery

Martin Spivey
Discovery in the Namib Desert

When Martin Spivey describes what it takes to be a “Sherlock
Holmes of geology”, aspiring explorationists should take note. He and his team are credited with the discovery of one of the largest undeveloped uranium deposits in the world, the Rössing South deposit in Namibia.

Operating on the premise that an airborne magnetic low was the continuation of the same formation that hosts the nearby Rössing mine, Spivey’s exploration team drilled a couple of holes into the thick overburden of the Namib desert two years ago. Rössing South jumped out on the first drill pass.

 “Sometimes a world class deposit just happens to be sitting there waiting to be found,” says Spivey, exploration manager for junior Extract Resources. “There were no fancy black boxes or techno marvels that went into discovering Rössing South, just the application of a little mental elbow grease and a drill rig,”

That said, Spivey identifies several attributes common to geological Sherlocks:  persistence, immunity to serial failure, the power of observation, and a facility for visualizing in 3-D without the help of a computer. A knack for problem solving is an asset, as is the ability to work in small, flexible teams.

“Small companies are the natural home for this kind of personality,” Spivey says.  “The trick is working for one with a few dollars in the tin and a willingness to spend them, before the usual flare out and extinction.”

Like most exploration geologists, Spivey has felt the pain of the industry’s viscous cycles. After graduating with a BSc. from Canterbury University in New Zealand in 1984, he backpacked through Asia and Europe, then worked for several junior mining companies before becoming an exploration manager for Newcrest Mining and later, Strata Mining. Both his children, now 19 and 16, were born in Kalgoorlie in the eastern goldfields of Western Australia.

“None of us with a few decades under the belt have escaped the swinging axe once in a while,” says Spivey, 50. “It’s not such a bad thing, really. It forces you to pay attention.”

In 2002 he was given the opportunity to put together a portfolio of properties in Namibia, including the Husab project that contains Rössing South. The property package formed the basis for a public listing of Kalahari Minerals on London’s AIM. Through a series of farm-ins and ownership changes, Extract acquired a 100% control of Husab before the discovery of Rössing South. Kalahari retains a 40.4% interest in Extract, while Rio Tinto International holds 14.7% of the junior.

Boasting a resource of 108 million pounds of uranium oxide, Rössing South is headed for production in 2013 assuming a positive feasibility study later this year. There are currently 15 drill rigs completing infill drilling to up the confidence levels of the existing resource, and several radon anomalies generated from the decay of uranium remain to be drill-tested.

Spivey believes that the mineral industry is in the early stages of a long term bull market for commodities that will provide opportunities for those just joining, or thinking about joining, the exploration sector.

“Pay attention to what people who know more than you are saying, but don’t necessarily believe it,” he advises new geologists. “Read lots, and see as many deposits as you can. Pay attention to the details and do the mechanical things well.”

With the biggest discovery of his lifetime behind him, Spivey could easily dispense this advice and ride off into the spectacular Namibian sunset on one of his vintage Italian motorcycles. But for someone who has experienced the “pinnacle of job fulfillment and the bottom of the slough of despond, sometimes in one day”, riding the open highway might just seem a little too tame by comparison.