In conversation with Dr Sally Goodman

May 28, 2024
Dr Sally Goodman – VP Generative Exploration at Newmont Corporation

Sally Goodman is Head, Global Discovery for Newmont, spearheading the drive to discovery across the company’s global portfolio of early-stage exploration projects.

Newmont is the world’s leading gold company and a producer of copper, silver, zinc and lead. The company was founded in 1921 and has been publicly traded since 1925. With its head office in Denver, Colorado, Newmont has a world-class portfolio of assets in Africa, Australia, Latin America & Caribbean, North America, and Papua New Guinea.

Before joining Newmont, Sally was Chief Geoscientist with Atlantic Gold, following five years with Goldcorp in a variety of corporate technical positions. Prior to that, she traveled globally as a consultant in structural geology with SRK Consulting, after holding various lecturing and research posts in universities in Canada and the UK. She has a PhD in Economic Geology and an MSc in Mineral Exploration from the Royal School of Mines, London (UK), and a BSc in Geological Sciences from Leeds University (UK). Sally is currently Chair of the Board of the Mineral Deposits Research Unit, University of British Columbia, and was the Society of Economic Geologists’ Thayer-Lindsay Lecturer in 2023.

Brett Davis: Firstly, thanks for giving Coring the opportunity to interview you, Sally. I was really keen to capture you for an interview, given your international profile in the mining and exploration industry, plus your expertise in my field of interest, structural geology. I’ll start with my standard lead-in question – what got you interested in a career in geology?

Sally Goodman: Like many young people, I was fascinated by dinosaurs – in my case triggered by a Ladybird Book called Our Land in the Making. We spent many summer holidays on the Northumbrian coast (UK), and I had quite the collection of big chunks of limestone with very small fossils which I collected, as well as assorted mineral specimens I spent my pocket money on. But I never thought of geology as a profession – I was actually planning to study languages at university – until my mum suggested turning my geological hobby into a career. At sixteen, I went to talk to the local university about what a geologist does – and was sold on the idea of lots of travel, not being chained to a desk, and every day being different. And that’s pretty much how things have turned out.

BD: Coring is a drilling magazine, and we like to keep to our roots. So, I’ll ask you a multi-faceted drilling-related question – do you do much work with oriented core? Do you have any horror stories with regard to core orientation? And do you work with other structure orientation methods pertaining to drilling?

SG: Oriented core – that’s a charged subject! Good orientation data is priceless; bad orientation data is worse than none at all. I have a few horror stories – probably the worst was a gold deposit that had amassed a huge database of orientation data – but when I plotted it up, it didn’t seem to make much sense. So I did some field checking – a large glaciated surface a few hundred meters from the core shed had a very strong E-W foliation; the oriented core data suggested the foliation was N-S. A few more spot checks showed that much, but not all, of the data was 90ᵒ out in strike. As there was no way of knowing what data was correctly oriented, I threw the whole dataset out, much to the dismay of the clients!

I’ve used Televiewer data extensively – it provides a more reliable dataset, but the structures that are significant from a mineralization point of view can be lost in the sheer quantity of measurements that are churned out. It’s vitally important to check the data back against the drill core to validate your interpretation.

BD: Very few people can boast the high-level roles you have now and have occupied historically. I also note that there are not many women in mining and/or exploration who have achieved this. Why do you think this is, and are things changing?

SG: That’s an easy one. It’s difficult and it’s a constant battle to get your voice heard, and not be relegated to making coffee and taking notes, which are important field skills, but hardly limited to one gender. The workplace is changing slowly, but it is still difficult to balance a mining or exploration career with family life, so we lose many women who choose to step away from the industry in their late 20s or 30s, and then find it difficult to get back. At the age when I had young children, I was in academia and consultancy, where I was able to make my own schedule to a certain degree – working my schedule around schooldays, holidays, birthdays… I made my time commitment very clear: I would only go to site for two weeks at a time, and after a site visit, I would need several weeks at home before the next trip. This boundary never caused any issues with clients; it just became part of the way we worked together, but it’s not always easy to build family time into a career.

Dr Sally Goodman

BD: Leading on from the previous question, I note that forums such as LinkedIn are showing more and more posts directed at women in mining and exploration. What do you see as the main impediments to women pursuing career in mining and exploration and do you have any broad advice for helping women advance in these industries in a positive way?

SG: The industry has to become more flexible. There tends to be an ‘all or nothing’ thinking, where women who no longer want to spend long periods of time at exploration camps or at site, tend to be sidelined. The pandemic taught us that we can do good work remotely, and we need to build on that and apply technology where we can allow women the flexibility to work from home. Of course, that doesn’t just apply to women. There are plenty of geologists who can’t – or would prefer not to – spend extended periods at site. If we want to attract the next generation of mining professionals, the industry has to adapt.

As for advice, I suggest asking for work arrangements that suit your lifestyle. I found that if I asked for flexibility, it was often possible to arrange. Male colleagues or clients weren’t intentionally arranging things to make my life difficult. They just hadn’t thought of factoring inflexibility, as they had never needed it themselves. Once I asked, they were (usually) happy to comply.

BD: Who have been some of the positive influences in your career?

SG: I’m not going to name names here, as I’d be sure to forget someone and upset them. However, I would say that the mentors who have made the most difference to me during my university career and while working, are those who presented me with a challenge. They then just let me get on with it, with a bit of gentle steering where needed. I don’t do so well with micromanagers!

BD: Given the current multi-commodity mineral boom, are you doing a lot of work outside of the commodities and deposit styles you have traditionally worked on?

SG: As a consultant, I worked on a wide range of commodities and deposit types. For the last ten years, it’s mainly been gold and now gold-copper deposits. What is changing is becoming wise to the possibility that a project may have by-products that fall into that ‘critical metals’ bucket. Where previously they were simply a nuisance, there’s now recognition that we need to understand the deportment of the entire metal suites, rather than just the major payable metals. It’s a new way of thinking about deposit types that previously may not have been attractive targets – it challenges some old paradigms.

BD: You worked for the international consultancy SRK earlier in your career. What were some of the highlights and lessons you learned from the consulting game?

SG: Highlights would have to be the places I worked and the people I had the opportunity to meet. There’s nothing like wandering around a vineyard in Portugal, or the steppes of Kazakhstan, or the high Andes with a bunch of like-minded individuals, debating the geology on the rocks and enjoying the local hospitality.

The main lesson I learned is to listen first and speak afterward. You can (and should) read up about a deposit before heading to site, but it’s the people on the ground who live, eat and breathe the deposit every day who have made the key observations – whether they realize it or not. Sometimes, published descriptions leave out critical factors because they don’t fit the narrative, and there’s a wealth of knowledge at site that simply never makes it into the literature or technical reports. Many times, a seemingly random fact or enigmatic outcrop has proved to be the key that unlocks the whole system.

The other thing I learned is to keep asking: ‘How do you know that?’ to filter out the accepted wisdom that has been passed down through generations of geologists – the sort of myth that may have no basis in fact.

BD: I have to ask – political instability/insecurity aside, what part of the world do you think is highly prospective for finding new world-class orebodies?

SG: Well, every year at PDAC I pick up one of those brochures about the mineral wealth of Afghanistan. I’ll just leave that here.

BD: Is there a particular mineralization style or deposit type that interests you, and why?

SG: Really anything where you have to unravel the geological history to understand the geometry of the deposit, and to be able to predict where you might find the next big one. No two deposits are ever the same, but when you throw in a few phases of deformation, and maybe some metamorphism along with the alteration and mineralization, it really becomes challenging – and it’s the intellectual challenge that keeps it fresh. This is also why machine learning only gets us so far in exploration – the recipe is never exactly the same from one deposit to the next.

BD: Leading on from the previous question – everyone has a handful of deposits that have left a mark on them, be it because of the amazing geology, the hideous conditions, the people they worked with, etc. Which deposits do you hold dear and which ones really were difficult to work on?

SG: My first job as a consultant was to produce an updated interpretation of the reprocessed geophysics of the Thompson Nickel Belt for Inco – marrying the accepted wisdom with the aeromag data. That sounded fairly straightforward until I got to the site, and the orebodies looked nothing like my preconception of an ‘orthomagmatic’ nickel deposit, and the existing map interpretation and the structural story didn’t match. Getting that sorted out was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, which pretty much sums up life as a consultant, actually. More recently, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Peñasquito in Mexico, where we’re mining two breccia pipes that fired off the shoulder of a buried intrusive body. Everything about the deposit geology is complex, and the next discovery is likely to be under tens of meters of cover – but again, that’s what makes it interesting. It was immensely satisfying to produce a 3D model of the deposit in Leapfrog – months of work and probably the most time I’ve spent on a single model, but very rewarding.

I’ve been lucky to work with some great people throughout my career – there aren’t many that I wouldn’t want to work with again. And apart from the occasional deprivations of life in camp, you know, cold showers, bad coffee, biting bugs of various types, I can’t think of anything I’d describe as hideous. The worst field experience was probably the combination of food poisoning and the first night at altitude at Antamina in Peru when I really questioned my life choices, but even that experience was worth it in the long run for the opportunity to work on a world-class ore deposit.

BD: Where do you see the most exciting technological developments being made in mineral exploration and mining going forward?

SG: The ability to truly map in 3D, driven by increasing availability and decreasing price of lidar units integrated into mapping tablets. We are already using these systems both in open pit and underground mines for detailed mapping and have also utilized a system to do detailed outcrop mapping of vein geometries. Having the ability to map structure where we can’t lay hands on the rock, and to have a permanent record is going to be huge – once we have a generation that grew up with electronics and doesn’t default to paper and pencil when the going gets tough. These technological advancements are going to help our geological models and grade control and have significant potential to improve geotechnical mapping and modeling. And it’s one version of the truth, no more having mine geos and geotechnical staff producing two separate maps and models.

And if we add in drone capability and spectral mapping, the possibilities are endless…

BD: Do you think that there are any mineral exploration strategies or technologies that are under-employed, but could make a big difference to an exploration campaign if people used them more?

SG: I’d like to see us be more agile in getting from drill core to model and feeding that information back into the drill program in real-time. It slows us down so much to conduct a drill program, then wait for the assay results, and then model the deposit up, and then plan the next program. Of course, this is a particular problem with gold exploration where the appearance (or otherwise) of gold in drill core is not always a good indicator of overall grade, and geochemical proxies can be misleading. Scanning technologies are taking us in the right direction, but I’m jealous of the downhole tools the petroleum industry uses, allowing to interpret geology while drilling. Imagine how much more efficient we would be if we could do something similar. I think sometimes we accept the status quo too much, as it’s ‘the way we’ve always done it’ rather than setting stretch goals.

BD: We hear all about the advances and benefits of technologies, such as 3D modeling, geochemical analysis, and utilization of drones. Have you noted any negative impacts to effective exploration and mining because of these e.g. less people out kicking rocks?

SG: With all the technology available, it’s sometimes easy to forget we are targeting a geological concept, rather than an anomaly, and it’s really important to get into the field and understand what we’re dealing with. We need to build the geological understanding into the target concept, then all results are meaningful, even the negative ones. If the target is just an anomaly, drilling the red spots, then the results are digital – yes, we hit something, or no we didn’t. If we have a target concept, then it’s a learning experience and we can modify the strategy as we go. All of these examples might sound obvious, but there is the temptation to shortcut the process and simply go from collection of data (of whatever type) to drilling, without taking the time to develop the geological concept. This is where experienced staff has an important role to play in reviewing the program and continuing to keep abreast of the results as they come in, to ensure the team is learning and adapting as they go.

BD: What is your opinion of the geological skillsets, experience, and knowledge of geologists today, especially those who are newly graduated?

SG: That is a loaded question! Many of the basic skills that were drummed into us, I’m thinking crystallography and mineralogy in particular, have gone by the wayside in favor of more multidisciplinary courses. I’d comment that new graduates have a broader view of geology’s links to other earth sciences – climate, environment, ocean science – than we did. The one essential skill we seem to be losing is geological mapping, the ability to read the landscape and know where you are (without GPS coordinates) and draw a cross-section on the fly. A good geological map is a 4D interpretation of the subsurface, not just a representation of surface distribution of rock units. It drives me crazy to see a surface ‘map’ with no topographical information. If we’re interested in bedrock geology, the map should be top-of-bedrock, without large areas of here-be-dragons cover.

BD: Has there been any single satisfying moment in your career that rates above all the others?

SG: For me, the experience that rates the most satisfying, is always the latest one. Right now we are finally drilling a very exciting prospect that has never been drilled before. It will take a while to understand the scale of what we have, but initial results look promising.

BD: I’ll ask a question on the flipside to the previous one. Many of us have interfaced with less than savory individuals or experienced toxic workplaces. Has there been any incident or incidents that really disappointed you?

SG: It’s really disappointing that discrimination still exists within the mining industry. Things have improved since I was a student and was told I’d never get a job in the field but should be happy to work in a lab. However, many mine sites and exploration camps are still built around the assumption of a male workforce. And there is still toxic behavior from off-color ‘jokes’ to outright physical assault. At least, throughout the industry and at Newmont, we are now talking about it, and making concerted efforts to listen to the staff’s concerns and taking practical steps. Sometimes, it can be the simple things that make a big impact, like making sure walkways are well lit, or the layout of shower blocks, but changing the culture isn’t easy. And gender-based harassment is only one aspect of bullying. As an industry, we still have a long way to go. However, if we don’t change, we’ll find new generations will vote with their feet, and find a more pleasant work environment elsewhere.

BD: In addition to your professional role, you also manage to find time to compile and deliver an impressive volume of public geology-focused presentations. What is Sally Goodman’s secret to time management?

SG: Where possible, I try to align the work demands to fit my mindset on any given day. Some days are good for sifting through budget spreadsheets and finding the error that messes up the totals; other days are good for getting the team together and brainstorming targeting strategies; and I also enjoy days for writing reports and presentation texts, or time to find a coffee shop with a good internet connection and catch up on recent publications. I have a number of scheduled calls with colleagues across the globe, but in the flex time between, I try and fit the work to my current mood. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting in front of a screen and struggling to move something forward when there’s no inspiration. Of course, an adrenaline-fueled panic due to impending deadlines also focuses the mind.

BD: What have you learned from field practice and your job experience that is not taught at university?

SG: I’m lucky in that I did a Masters in Mineral Exploration, so gained at least a rudimentary understanding of mineral exploration methods, which is an educational gap that some students have coming straight from their undergraduate degree into the mining industry. But on the non-technical front, a couple of things that spring to mind that are not taught at university are integration of information and deposit economics, in its broadest sense. University courses tend to divide knowledge into subjects, and then divide the subjects into bite-sized chunks. In contrast, value is really derived from pulling the strands of knowledge together. I realize courses have to be passed individually for credits, and it is difficult to plan integrated courses which might require different prerequisites, but this is a really important skill in exploration. As for deposit economics, it is key to have at least some idea of how big a certain deposit type needs to be, to be economically viable. An understanding of what drives value in exploration is important, even for junior exploration colleagues. In fact, I’m in support of junior staff knowing as much about their company as possible; they are the future SVPs, after all.

BD: If you had abundant financial funding, is there a fundamentally annoying geology question you’d like to solve or a topic you’d like to work on?

SG: Currently, I’m spending a significant amount of time thinking about how we develop process models for exploration, rather than relying on deposit models. Deposit models have been useful in teaching, or as a descriptive shortcut, but can be limiting in generating exploration concepts. I believe we are missing the point of the mineral systems approach to exploration when we talk about a mineral system for orogenic gold deposits, for example. If we look at a mineral system from the bottom up, from fundamental mantle processes to what ultimately happens in the upper crust, it should be agnostic of outcome. The same mineral systems may result in different deposit types, in different locations and at different times. But to think in those terms we need process models, either conceptual or numerical. I know there are a few groups looking at this in a piecemeal fashion, and it would take a lot of brainpower and computing power to build a whole-earth model based on mineral systems principles, but it could fundamentally change how we approach exploration. And if climate scientists can build models with complex interdependencies, which are used as a basis for global future planning, I think it’s feasible for mineral exploration too – but that’s where abundant funding is required.

BD: Do you think that geological societies such as the Society of Economic Geology have adapted with the times in terms of being useful entities for their members? Or are there basic things that such societies should be providing and/or promoting?

SG: My view is that many geological societies are adapting, some faster than others. There has been a change over the last few years, with many of the learned societies making a more intentional attempt at representing the interests of all their membership, whether by ensuring more diverse boards, planning meetings in different locations, encouraging global reach of student groups, etc. The newsletters have also improved, and there is more relevant information being shared on social media, which is where many people now find their news. However, I have to think there’s a better format than the traditional paper for dissemination of research; journals used to make sense, but is it still the case?

We’ve developed an internal ‘geoscience learning platform’ which is a website where topics are presented as text, images, videos – with voiceover and multilingual transcript – and linked, so the user can select a single part of the topic or drill down into the detail as needed. Maybe it’s time to take a similar approach to the dissemination of research?

BD: Any concluding comments or words of wisdom from an industry leader?

SG: I have found that people are fascinated by the earth, whether it’s the child in the rock shop more interested in crystallography than chakras, from the hikers in the bar who’ve picked up a big lump of quartz, to the photographer at the beach waiting for the sun to hit the sea cliff at the right angle. But very few people have had the opportunity to study earth sciences, and as a result, there’s a lot of ignorance when it comes to earth history and earth resources. If we want acceptance of the mining industry, we must be ambassadors whenever we get the chance to share our stories and our enthusiasm. Who have you spoken to today?

For more information reach out to Dr Sally Goodman via LinkedIn