Q&A from the experts: In conversation with Dr Brett Davis

October 4, 2021
Dr Brett Davis
Dr Brett Davis Principal Structural Geologist at Olinda Gold Structural Geology Consulting

Dr Brett Davis graduated from James Cook University, Australia with a Bachelor’s in Geology in 1986, which was followed by a 1992 Doctoral degree in Structural Geology from the same university. Between his Bachelor and Doctorate, Dr Davis worked briefly at the Mt Isa Mines as a production geologist. Since then, Brett has held prestigious Structural Geology positions in companies such as Placer Dome, RSG Global, Chalice Gold Mines and Orefind. Brett has established himself as a world leader in Structural Geology and now runs his own consulting company – Olinda Gold Structural Geology Consulting. Brett also serves as an Adjunct Research Fellow at his alma mater – James Cook University.

Timothy Strong: How did you decide to pursue a career in Structural Geology?

Dr Brett Davis: I was always going to be a geologist, ever since I was a kid. My father fostered in me a love for the natural world. I was raised on a cattle property and my father was the inveterate ‘bushie’, a term used for people who have lived their life on the land. He was a self-taught naturalist, sponsoring in me a fascination with nature and nurturing love of rocks. So, I was one of the rare breeds of students who turned up at university knowing what they wanted to be. Believe it or not, though, Structural Geology wasn’t something planned – I was actually going to be a geochemist!

Thankfully, I had Professor Tim Bell as my undergraduate Structural Geology lecturer, and I saw the light. The 3-D geometries appealed to me, given I had done a lot of geometric drawing and perspective and I’m a bit of a bush artist. Once I saw how much sense stereo nets made, I was hooked. Professor Bell’s advice was to work hard, get a First Class mark, and then I would be in good stead for a scholarship if I wanted to do a PhD.

What followed was a very intense year with two months of fieldwork (most people did two weeks) and seemingly endless days with five-six hours of sleep. But it was fantastic – I learned microstructural analysis and how to integrate it with geometries and overprinting at all scales, and I learned it from the best in the world.

And the sleepless nights paid off – I got two publications in peer-reviewed journals from my work and finished two weeks early, something that hadn’t been done before in the history of the department. Two years later, after a stint as a production geologist at Mt Isa, I got a scholarship to undertake a PhD to further my passion for Structural Geology.

TS: Briefly explain why Structural Geology is so important in mineral exploration and mining.

BD: There are very few mineral deposits that don’t have some sort of fundamental structural geological control in terms of focusing the fluids, controlling sites of mineral deposition, and subsequently structurally modifying the original architecture of the deposits.

So, understanding Structural Geology is fundamental to undertaking informed exploration for, and exploitation of, natural metal accumulations. It provides an important constraint in exploration area selection at scales from mountain belts to prospects and has been the underlying tenet to the development of some of the most widely used geological modeling software in the world, such as Leapfrog. Importantly, Structural Geology provides an interface with other disciplines, such as rock mechanics. For example, projects that take Structural Geology and mechanical aspects of rock deformation into account will be the safest ones. Additionally, proper planning that incorporates these aspects will be the most economical. I’ve recently been involved in a large risk mitigation project where I provided the interface between mine geology and geotechnical monitoring.

Dr Brett in the wilderness
Dr Brett in the wilderness

TS: From your point of view, what are the most important factors that make a good Structural Geologist?

BD: There are quite a few things:

Simply, you have to be an interested geologist. I often see people in geology roles who are just going through the motions and there is no passion. It makes me wonder why they are even there.

The ability to understand geometry and perspective that is, the ability to think and draw in 3-D. This can be learned but the better Structural Geologists are generally the ones with a natural ability.

An acute sense of observation, which is a critical thing that all geologists should have. Noting the deviations from expected geological relationships, the obscure minerals, the overprinting relationships, the ability to link the observations at all scales.

An understanding that Structural Geology does not provide answers in isolation. It must be married with all other aspects of the geology – geochemistry, geochronology, alteration, etc. This allows the construction of a holistic geological interpretation of the volume of rock you are looking at. Mineral System Analysis is the industry buzz-term now, and this can’t be undertaken if only one aspect of geology is considered.

An appreciation of processes. If you see a geometry, how did the rocks get to that state? What minerals were involved in accommodating the deformation? How was the strain partitioned? Was the process progressive or pulsative? What is the overprinting history of the mineralization-alteration system and which structures provided the permeability framework? What level in the crust and geothermal environment(s) acted as controls to develop different structures? What controlled brittle versus ductile deformation?

The ability to get out of your chair, walk out the door and actually go and put your nose on the rocks. Technology is a real boon to mining and exploration, but it has also produced elements contrary to the essence of geology in general. We are seeing an inundation of virtual geology, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19. However, even before that, I noted geologists wanting to migrate to roles where they spend an inordinate amount of time constructing and spinning computer models around, with the biggest traverse they make being from their desk to the coffee machine. In many cases, these models are constructed by people remote to the sites and the modelers haven’t even touched the rocks. I saw one guy, who touted himself as a 3-D Structural Geologist (is there any other type?!), who never collected any data himself but would go to site and proclaim that sections people had agonized over, based on mapping and logging, were wrong. That is poor, uninformed form. Good Structural Geology comes from knowing the structural history, recognizing all the structures, assessing which ones were critical for the current disposition of mineralization, reviewing overprinting and geometric relationships and taking high-quality measurements. This can’t be done from your desk in a capital city or from an office where you can see the core yard but deem it too far away to walk over and review the core.

The ability to offer pragmatic assistance is critical within the minerals industry. Commonly, we see reports that simply get shelved because the essence of the findings hasn’t been distilled down to something useable by the troops on the ground. This is especially true of consultants who have come straight out of university with a career solely comprised of academia. I saw one of the products of a newcomer to the industry who worked on a gold project in Northern Ireland. He had proposed seven deformation events, which was crazy. There wasn’t much dust in the area but most of it was on the unusable report he wrote.

Realizing that the cliché ‘the best geologists have seen the most rocks’ is largely true. I have a good friend who is probably the smartest geologist I know, and the number of deposits he has seen is unbelievable. Experience can’t be underestimated.

Staying abreast of the latest ideas and concepts in Structural Geology and deposit formation. Taking time out to read a paper in Economic Geology or Coring is not a waste of time. Nor is attending workshops and conferences, be it in person or virtually, or watching presentations on the amazing GeoHUG site. I also follow the latest posts on LinkedIn on a daily basis and there is some great information. And I have mentors and peers I am willing to listen to. I don’t always agree but their opinions sponsor discussion and make me test my own ideas.

TS: You worked at the Mt Isa Mines after your Bachelor’s degree. What were the most challenging aspects of your job then? Which was the most challenging company that you have worked at in general and why?

BD: I was working at the Hilton Mine, Australia, which was subsequently incorporated into the George Fisher Mine. Hilton was a new mine, so I was there for the planning and extraction of initial ore. The mine was divided into three sections – the southern end, the central initial mine block and the northern end, which I was allocated. The northern end of the deposit was extremely faulted and when I arrived, I was confronted with 30 km (≈ 19 mi) of unlogged, extremely broken core from which I had to piece together a coherent interpretation. I’m not sure what size the core was, but its diameter couldn’t have been greater than about 30 mm (≈ 1 in). So, trying to interpret continuity of stratigraphy and mineralization was tough because small diameter core through faulted ground manifested in the core tray as gravel. And it didn’t help in that I had one of the worst drillers I have ever met in terms of the trays of core he produced. There was not a single shift where he placed the core in the trays correctly. Sometimes it was back the front, sometimes it would snake backward and forward from row to row. I spent more time getting him to repack the core than he spent drilling. For some reason, he was never sacked.

Ground conditions varied from okay to absolutely atrocious, which made mining a logistical challenge in terms of ground support and safety. That said, safety awareness back then was almost non-existent. Geologists never had a tag system so no one knew where we were at any one time. And it wasn’t like the Australian mines today where people drive everywhere. We had to walk and the restricted cage times meant we couldn’t always get between levels. So, we used to climb between levels using the return air raises – these were done in 120 m (≈ 394 ft) segments with no safety staging and at an angle of about 80 degrees. Back then you could go up to the unsupported face and take samples and I was regularly doing this while the jumbos were drilling the same face. I was lucky in that I only had one incident of being hit by a rock, which fell just at the same time I looked up, so I caught it squarely on the nose. I had several other near-death experiences.

One occurred as a result of some mining engineer, who had obviously left a village without an idiot when he commenced work at Hilton. The engineer in question had the brilliant idea of getting a geologist to climb into the filled stopes (we were using a cut-and-fill method) and paint a line around the top of the fill so that the bogger operator would know how far down to bog material on the next lift. I was ‘lucky’ enough to get the job and, working solo as we usually did, I went underground, climbed the 5 m (16 ft) bulkhead and duck-waddled out along the fill. The clearance between the back and the fill was such that I didn’t quite have to crawl. After going in about 50 m (164 ft) I heard a ‘bloop’ and 5 m (16 ft) of fill liquified and turned to quicksand around me. Luckily, someone had forgotten to take out a service line on the back and I grabbed it and literally monkeyed all the way back to the bulkhead. It turned out that someone, maybe the same mining engineer, had left an active airline in the stope. The air pressure had built up and when it suddenly released, it agitated the fill. Needless to say, I had some pretty colorful words to say to the rocket scientists who came up with the idea and it was never done again. Given that we had no tag system, no one would have known where I was if I’d gone to the bottom of the fill!

Another equally challenging role was with Chalice Gold. I was their exploration manager in Eritrea. The country was a long string of challenges, from logistical to security. The airport at the time was the worst in the world in terms of the amount of time it took to get in or out. It was not uncommon to take more than two hours to exit the airport. I was dragged into backroom security on more than one occasion, being accused of things varying from stealing gold – because I had a 2 cm (≈ 0.8 in) quartz crystal with me – to trafficking electronics – security had x-rayed my bag and seen my stainless-steel coffee cup. Travel meant having a plethora of travel passes. You could not have a mobile phone without a license. Internal air travel was frowned upon so 12-hour drives were undertaken in lieu of one-hour chopper rides. Medical services were horrendous. Security was an issue. Chalice had one of its cars ambushed and four of our personnel were shot. I left the country after I drove a road that had a landmine on it. Even though the army knew that the landmine was there, they didn’t bother moving it.

Despite all the negatives, there were many positives. I became a better person professionally as I met the challenges and I had some fabulous mentors and peers, many of whom are friends I keep in touch with today. I mean, I wouldn’t have met you if I hadn’t been in Eritrea, Tim!

Brett near Brucejack
Fieldwork in an area of amazing geology and scenery near Brucejack Mine, Canada

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

BD: So many things! Geologists usually get thrown into drilling programs but don’t know how to extract the pertinent information from drill core. You can see that this is still an issue because there are regular core logging workshops sprouting up, being held by professional agencies (e.g. AIG) and allied with universities. In some cases, the courses are great but in others, I tend to think they are looked on as money-spinners. How many of us have been involved in re-logging historical core, in devising new logging codes, in working out what to include or omit from drop-down logging menus? And, at the end of the day, the fundamental stuff is still commonly missed e.g. structural domaining, structural asymmetries and kinematics, overprinting relationships.

I sometimes think not enough time is devoted at university to the things we see the most. For example, many people map faults, but the fundamental understanding is lacking, such as the evolution of the textures over time, shear sense, roles with respect to host-rock permeability, relationship to proximal and distal vein arrays and so on.

Fieldcraft in general is dying at universities. Many courses are now restricted to virtual field trips or suites of rocks laid out in a classroom with no spatial context. The continued destruction of funding and the abysmal funding models for higher education, the exponential growth of environmental courses, the threat of litigation, the logistics associated with field trips, the preference to apply drone and software skills to geology – they all show a general devaluation in the way geological knowledge and skills are viewed. Don’t get me wrong, we need environmental safeguards, and technology is a godsend. But we are applying these things at the expense of understanding the rocks. You only have to look at the popularity of the fantastic videos on Fieldcraft by Nick Tate to see that there is a quest for information not taught at university.

TS: What is the most interesting deposit you have ever worked at?

BD: I can’t single out any individual deposit so I’ll mention several:

The Kanowna Belle orogenic gold deposit in Western Australia is fascinating in terms of both its geological evolution and the evolution of ideas, some of which were widely conflicting. The sulphides show some of the coolest microstructures I have seen.

The Maleev deposit in Kazakhstan is fascinating because it has been touted for decades as a classic VHMS deposit, yet my colleague Jun Cowan and I have noted that the overprinting and structural geological geometries do not support this, and the deposit is better interpreted as epigenetic. To see the drill core, go underground in a massive deposit that will soon close, and to examine the incredibly detailed logging the Soviets undertook, was amazing.

The Nkran orogenic gold deposit in Ghana has some of the best textural relationships in terms of alteration, veining and cleavages I have ever seen. I use a lot of examples of overprinting and geometries in my Structural Geology training course.

The Havieron deposit in north Western Australia is a beautiful deposit with amazing world-class textures. This is a relatively new discovery and much of the geological detail hasn’t reached the public yet, but when it does, people will be seriously impressed. Full kudos to the drillers who have managed to provide consistently oriented core over hole lengths approaching 2 km (≈ 1 mi).

The low- to intermediate-sulphidation epithermal gold Buritica deposit in Colombia, because of the scale of the system and the well-developed geometries of structures controlling the mineralization. I have an MSc student working on the deposit and our understanding is constantly evolving.

The Chelopech high-sulphidation deposit in Bulgaria. It is so big and so rich, and we still don’t have a holistic model for its geometry and formation, regardless of what some consultants would purport.

TS: What is your favorite structural feature that you never tire of seeing?

BD: I would predict that many geologists would say folds. However, for me, vein systems are the most amazing. The geometries, which commonly involve other structures such as foliations and faults, can be jaw-dropping. You can see them at all scales from core to deposit-scale. And their evolution, overprinting relationships and geometries can provide a wealth of information on the evolution of a mineral deposit. Plus, I am a passionate mineral collector, and veins can produce some beautiful specimens.

TS: Being based in Australia, with current travel restrictions, how has your work changed? Do you think these changes will remain even after the lockdowns end?

BD: COVID-19 has been a real issue. Prior to the pandemic, I based myself in rural Queensland, Australia, which is where the family cattle property is. This allowed me to help run the property and has worked well logistically. Rockhampton has a good airport, and it is an hour’s flight to Brisbane, which is my international hub. Most of my clients were overseas, so travel restrictions basically torpedoed all my site-based work. Hard borders with other states, in particular Western Australia, were another impediment.

I love Queensland, however, it is a fundamentally difficult part of the world to have a project in, due to barriers imposed by archaic legislation plus obstructions imposed by Department of Environment and Science, which runs the direct governance on mining and exploration leases and not the mines department, as it is in every other state. So, national mineral expenditure basically collapsed in 2019 and has been dismal ever since.

Long story short, I had a lot of free time in 2020, so I updated my training courses and posted articles on Structural Geology on media sites such as LinkedIn. Plus, I perfected some domestic skills such as paving!

TS: What project have you worked on that has surprised you the most with its success?

BD: Several deposits, in particular the orogenic gold projects, seem to have perpetual lives of several years regardless of when they commenced. The really big ones, such as Kanowna Belle, Sunrise Dam, Wallaby and so on, just keep on giving. Dugald River base metal deposit, because my predictions of structural architectural controls are now being realized and adding significant tonnes and confidence in grade prediction. Cardinal Resources’ Namdini deposit – it certainly didn’t look as big as it is touted now, nor did I expect the insane takeover bidding war it sponsored.

Brett in Bissa, Burkina Faso
Brett in Bissa, Burkina Faso.

TS: Have you had any terrible experiences with drill crews when trying to obtain structural data? Can you tell us about your most memorable experience with an exploration drilling company in general?

BD: A couple of instances come to mind. When I was working for Dundee Precious Metals as their Group Structural Geologist, I was getting poor orientation marks from a crew in Serbia, which was using a spear, which at the time was a commonly used orientation tool. I have been around long enough to see the evolution and demise of multiple core orientation devices and protocols. As such, it is an integral component of my structural training course. I asked the drillers if the spear was bent, and they said it wasn’t. I then made the mistake of saying I would go up to the rig later and check the tools and procedures. When I got there, the spear was fine. After some discussion, I walked away for a leak at the edge of the drill pad. Looking over, I spotted the bent spear hidden in the ferns. That’s how I learned the golden rule of not warning the drilling crew when I was going to visit.

On another occasion, I saw very poor marks from a crew drilling at Newmont’s giant Ahafo deposit in Ghana prior to the commencement of mining. Some marks were 60 m (≈ 197 ft) apart, even though the contract stipulated orientations every 6 m (≈ 20 ft). When my colleague, Dr Julian Stephens, and I procured 20 m (≈ 66 ft) of angle iron and laid the core out, we found that the lines would sometimes spiral around the core, due to poor orientations and subsequent poor mark-up controls. When I tried to tell the local senior geologist about this, he denied everything but refused to go to the core shed with me. Ultimately, he was yelling at me before slamming his office door in my face.

Five minutes later the Canadian drilling foreman appeared and confronted me. It was obvious that the local geologist had rung him after slamming the door, asking him to come to the office to tell the Structural Geologist a thing or two. My response was to ask the foreman to go to the core-shed and look at my perceived issues with the core. The foreman was a rational guy and agreed. After a little while, he told me I was correct and that the poor orientations were inexcusable. The senior geologist never spoke to me again.

I think every exploration or mining geologist has a poor experience at some point. That’s human nature and the law of averages. But, as many people know, problems can come from more sources than the drilling contractors, as I’ve mentioned above. Poor results can follow poor geological supervision, even if you have good drill crews. And if you have poor drillers and poor geologists, you have a perfect storm of problems.

TS: Structural Geology from drill core requires excellent recoveries. How do you work with drillers to achieve that?

BD: There are several facets to answering this. Above all, communication is king. You must discuss the aims of the program with the drillers and from that let them know your expected products in terms of orientation and recovery. The communication has to flow both ways throughout the program because things change – drilling personnel, drill sites, ground conditions, logistics. If the geologist can start predicting the geology of the hole, such as when major structures will be intersected, then the drillers can plan for it.

Another thing that a geologist needs to understand is the orientation method being employed. This is essential if you are going to undertake an audit of the orientation marks. I saw a classic example of what can go wrong when I was in Liberia.

I found one of the geologists getting all of the core in the trays and turning it all around. When I asked what was wrong, he told me the orientation marks were at the end of the runs and so the drillers had put the core in the boxes incorrectly. I told him that he needed to go to the rig and watch and understand the drilling and orientation process because a Reflex tool was being used and the marks were supposed to be on the bottom of the run. The geologist had assumed that the drilling crew was using an Ezy-Mark device and was effectively dislocating his mineralized intervals when he was wrongly flipping core around.

TS: In drilling, we have seen a shift from mechanical core orientation to fully digitalized. Both have advantages and disadvantages. To what extent does this full digitalization erase errors and when are we to expect the optimal and fully reliable core orientation system?

BD: I don’t think that full digitalization does erase errors. Although the devices are great, they have the disadvantage of being back-end gadgets. So, they never actually orient the core. Instead, they orient the core barrel and then the mark is transferred to the core. This way, you can introduce errors in a couple of places during the drilling and orientation process.

Firstly, the core can move around in the barrel prior to the device recording its orientation at the end of the run. You will almost always get a mark on that last bit of core because it doesn’t care if something rotated in the barrel during drilling. Secondly, the transfer of the mark can lead to errors as well. For example, I’ve seen people put the orientation on the wrong side of the break. The old mechanical devices, such as Ezy-Mark, and even the spear, oriented the core stub prior to drilling a run, so there wasn’t a chance to rotate the core in the barrel before orientation. And the device was responsible for marking the core, whereas the electronic devices rely on the driller or offsider.

The next step in the digital revolution for core orientation concerns the collection of data after the core has been marked up. Devices, such as the iQ-Logger, allow a huge number of readings to be taken very quickly. So, if you have an itchy trigger finger or feel obliged to cram as many readings as possible into the database, there is incredible scope for error if the core has been incorrectly oriented.

Reflex has gotten around this to a certain degree by linking the iQ-Logger to the computer so you can plot data in real-time. However, the digital revolution has also spawned a population of geologists who only want to use computers, sometimes to the extent where they will do geological models without checking the veracity of the data.

Increasingly, I am visiting sites that don’t have core orienting frames, which are invaluable tools for providing checks on orientation data and for visualizing the structures being measured. Furthermore, the users of the alpha-beta devices, tend not to measure representative numbers of structures with low alpha angles because the devices can’t cope with the length of core required. The iQ-Logger is probably the best of the alpha-beta devices in the respect of mitigating this, but I guarantee you the users are still biasing their data toward structures with high alpha values. If you use the alpha-beta devices in conjunction with core orienting frames you can cover all bases, and this should be standard procedure.

Once again, technology has been a boon, but it has also generated an ever-widening gap between geologists and the rocks. This is especially the case when limitations to the technology aren’t acknowledged.

TS: Tell us more about your ongoing relationship with James Cook University, do you feel it is important for professionals to give back to their alma mater?

BD: It is definitely important to give back. I co-supervise postgraduate students in a formal capacity. One of my students has just completed his PhD thesis on the Tick Hill gold deposit in northwest Queensland and another PhD will soon be completed by a student working on the Dugald River mine, also in northwest Queensland. Both students have world-renowned principal supervisors at James Cook University. I am also co-supervising an MSc student on the Buritica deposit in Colombia. Informally, I also help undergraduate and postgraduate students from many parts of the world, currently helping colleagues in India, Iran, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Until COVID-19 impacted the world, I would undertake a yearly multi-client Structural Geology training course in Ghana. The geologists there are hungry for knowledge and training but don’t get the same opportunities as many other parts of the world. It has been a deliberate decision to base the course there. Logistics are handled by my colleagues at Sahara Natural Resources, who are based in the capital Accra. As part of this, we ask for applications from students at the universities and let the successful ones attend for free. Although the course is Ghana-based, attendees come from many countries. The last time I ran it, I had attendees from Ghana, India, Egypt, Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I answer all questions I get, which mostly come from my large LinkedIn network and the professional network I have developed. I figure that I had to ask for help at various points in my career, and am very grateful for the people who obliged, so it is only fair that I offer assistance when and if I can.

Brett teaching in Burkina Faso
Drill core examination as part of the Olinda Gold structural geology course at Inata Mine, Burkina Faso

TS: With the current demand for critical metals, and in particular domestic supply, do you think governments, such as Australia, are giving enough attention to mining?

BD: I think the response is highly variable and better viewed on a state-by-state basis. The best way to look at the success is to review the mineral sector expenditure data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on a yearly basis. The data is a mess, but it does highlight big differences in support. Recent breakdown in trade (and virtually all other) relationships with our previously largest trading partner, China, have pushed critical metal supplies into the limelight. I think it has opened the eyes of at least some members of government to the point where they realize they can’t just sit back and idly twirl their mustaches while they reap the benefits from metals trade like they used to. Rather than just being a cash cow, the metals industry, in particular those mines producing metals married to mitigating climate change, are now critical to furthering technological growth. Then again, maybe I give the guys in Canberra too much credit.

TS: With the lack of large deposits being found, and starting work on smaller projects less feasible due to higher commodity prices, do you think there are still some large ones out there? If so, where should we be looking?

BD: There are absolutely some big ones left to be discovered. The general problem is finding jurisdictions that are politically stable, that don’t use graft and corruption as business methods, that offer acceptable security for people working on the ground, and that are logistically feasible in terms of getting on the ground. This immediately rules out a lot of the world.

For example, there are still many really good-looking areas right across Africa but, as a general overall designation, the continent is a basket-case. Banro Corporation recently had amazing discovery potential in the belt they were exploring in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but security issues have plagued them. The Arabian-Nubian Shield is a prospective block of rock and some companies, such as Randgold – Barrick, will likely persist in their exploration and acquisition activities in that part of the world. Then there are the other parts of the world at the end of the Alpine-Balkan-Carpathian-Dinaride Belt. This linked orogenic belt has spawned some massive deposits, but once you get across into the Stans, exploration becomes prohibitive. Some places are just too hard to work in logistically and cost-wise. So, in lieu of this, companies are hunting elephants in known, friendly localities such as Canada and Australia, and pushing geological knowledge and technology as far as they can to find hidden and/or deeper deposits.

Dr Brett in India
Dr Brett in India

TS: There is an ongoing labor shortage in some countries. Have you noticed a similar issue when it comes to mineral exploration? Is there a hunger for geologists at the moment?

BD: Definitely. The number of advertisements for geologists has exploded and we are seeing people drafted into all sorts of roles, from junior positions being filled by new university graduates through to management roles. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the need for people who can fill specialist roles, such as geochemists and Structural Geologists. The geological service industries hanging off the exploration and mining companies are now facing demand that hasn’t happened for a long time. Just have a look at the number of articles on LinkedIn where geophysical consultancy companies are regularly stating how ‘excited’ they are to be working with as many companies as they can list. Petrographic services are seeing increased demand, which is refreshing, given that many people now just want to get the portable XRF and zap a rock and not worry about the textures.

TS: What does the future hold for Mineral Exploration in general?

BD: I think it’s going to be exciting. The rise and rise of so-called critical metals has widened the exploration spectrum significantly. Historically, the low demand for these metals meant most were just byproducts from general mining. Now, however, people are actively looking for these commodities in their own right. So, a greater number of people are having to learn about the geological environments that spawn and host them. Look at how many lithium ‘experts’ there are now, compared to a decade ago. There’s nothing like increased commodity popularity and price to drive a boom – the profile of Greenland or the plethora of junior companies exploring in Western Australia to name a few examples.

Technologies are going to drive exploration toward discoveries at greater depths. These would’ve been historically considered blind but are now being targeted by identifying subtle footprints, be it the chemistry of minerals (e.g. the green rocks distal to porphyries) or geophysical (e.g. refinement of the interpretation of seismic data). The timeframes for receiving results, the ability to drill deeper and faster, and the rapid geochemical analysis of samples will the increase speed and efficiency of programs.

Ultimately, we will see people become early (probably not first) movers to jurisdictions that have historically been hostile in terms of logistics, security, and political stability. Sadly, many places, such as those controlled by fundamentalist ideologies, may be a long way off. But there are still lots of opportunities in central African countries, northern Africa, many of the ex-Soviet republics. Right now, people will be saying ‘you have to be kidding’, but let’s see what happens as global stockpiles diminish, established mines end their lives and become more expensive, and some countries withdraw their supply.

There are places where I think we should hold off mining and exploring for the moment, for example, the ocean bed and Antarctica. We don’t know enough about the ecosystems around sub-sea deposits, especially volcanic vents, and the disruption of these for metals that are available on land is unnecessary. With respect to Antarctica, the continent is governed by international law banning military activity or mineral exploration and freezing territorial claims, for now. However, although it won’t get much publicity, there will be big companies and countries preparing for a time when this arrangement changes. Have a look at the increasing size of bases being established by a large foreign country in the interior of Australia’s Antarctic territory.

TS: You’ve given us an insight into your passion for Structural Geology, and geology in general. To conclude, have there been any negative experiences in your career to date?

BD: There are always frustrations, but generally, these aren’t insurmountable, and you can figure out a work-around. However, in some cases, they are out of your control and several come to mind.

Unfortunately, consulting can sometimes allow you to interface with the seedier and less desirable people and aspects of the industry. On one occasion, my colleague Jun Cowan and I were wined and dined by the director of a gold mining company as part of the grooming process for developing a model in a well-drilled gold camp in Western Australia. When we sent in our invoice, we were advised the company would pay on the last Friday of the month. On the last Thursday, we were informed they were insolvent. We had no idea about the shoddy financial state the company was in, but I’m sure our work was part of trying to garner a better price for a failed company.

On another occasion, a high-flying, high-profile explorer with an ego the size of a solar system was happily being lauded as one of the smartest guys since Einstein, taking credit for the discovery of a deposit that had a huge market cap at the time. When Jun Cowan and I checked the location of drill holes in the press releases on their website we found that 75% were not in the recorded positions. We informed the person in question and his response was not to acknowledge the mistakes (for the record, we think they were genuine mistakes) or thank us for not making it public. Rather, he took the bully-boy route and threatened us with legal action if we told anyone. When I went back to their website, I found that all the releases had been removed.

Most recently, I worked on a project in eastern Europe. There were serious problems with the geological management, and I highlighted the shortcomings in my report. The response by the geology manager at the time was to get another consultant in under the guise of redoing the work I’d done and to pay him for a report that left out any details of the poor management. The worst was that my report was effectively rebadged and resubmitted with the other consultant’s name on it, and I had yet to be paid. This was the closest I came to taking legal action, and the subsequent MD to this company told me I should have. However, both the consultant and the ex-geology manager have consequently garnered poor reputations in the exploration industry and, after I finally got paid, I decided my life was too short to worry about them. Anyway, the good experiences I’ve had have far outweighed the bad, so I’m happy with that!

Read Issue 17 here: 

Issue 17 / 2021