Dr Addepalli Kasiviswanadham (Kasi) is an Associate General Manager of the exploration department of Vedanta Exploration Global Company (VedEx) based in India. He has over 21 years of experience in mineral exploration, focused on mine- to regional-scale geology, including three years of research experience.
Prior to VedEx, he was working for Geomysore Services India Pvt. Ltd. for nine years. For another nine, he carried out extensive fieldwork in regional greenfield exploration across India for gold, base metals and platinum-group elements (PGE). He identified several greenfield exploration targets in different geological belts of Archaean- and Proterozoic-age, which have received prospecting and mining licenses. He was also actively involved in initial resources drilling of the BIF-hosted Ganjur and epigenetic clastic sediments hosted Gurharphar gold deposits.
Kasi’s work is focused on identifying new exploration targets and delivering ore-grade intersections. He also provides structural input to base metal deposit orebody controls and 3D geological modeling, along with greenfield exploration strategy, auction blocks assessments, executing drilling programs on base metals and gold prospects. He is currently leading the drilling program in Central India for copper-gold.
Dr Brett Davis: Firstly, thanks for giving Coring the opportunity to interview you Kasi-ji. You’ve gained enormous respect in the mining and exploration industry as a geologist who can work across many facets of geology. Can you tell us what interested you in a career in this sphere?
Dr Addepalli Kasiviswanadham: I am from a village located in the East coastal part of Southern India. I had no idea about geology and during my childhood days, I was interested in becoming a scientist or doctor. After finishing school, there were different options for my degree. Geology was one of them in my college along with chemistry and zoology. I developed an interest in chemistry and wanted to do a Masters (MSc) degree. I scored very good marks in chemistry and geology, but I was not able to get a free seat for the MSc chemistry entrance exam at my university and was unable to pay the tuition fee for a private college.
There were several other universities, but I was also unable to afford them. I had come across one of the geology professors and he explained the greatness of geology. So, my elder brothers convinced me to join the master’s of geology program. It was a turning point in my life, as I developed a keen interest in the field while completing my degree.
Afterwards, I joined a PhD program, since I got the fellowship, and became passionate about structural geology and geochemistry.
BD: I’ll ask you a few drilling-related questions first because you’ve planned and managed lots of drilling programs utilizing many different techniques. Which technique(s) do you enjoy the most and why?
AK: I managed drilling operations in different parts of India for gold and base metals and obtained a handful of experience in RC and diamond drilling. One of the projects used DTH during the initial part of my career.
RC is very quick with limited geological information, but if there is free gold in the system, we can pan it and get excited to see the colors. Drilling programs that produce oriented diamond core provide samples that are enjoyable to log and contribute to an easier understanding of the mineralization system. I like combinations of RC and diamond drilling in greenfield as it is cost- and time-effective.
BD: Have there been any particularly challenging drilling programs, and what did you do to overcome these?
AK: Drilling programs have various technical and non-technical challenges. In one of the gold prospects we were chasing the orebody strike extension and the entire area was covered with soil. It was a structurally complex fold pattern. Initially, we opened some trenches in the strike direction of the main orebody and ended up with greywacke. Afterwards, we used different exploration layers, including a ground magnetic survey and close-spaced traverses in agricultural land, to locate BIF boulders. After integration of different exploration layers, we opened the trenches, sampled them, and followed that with drilling, which led us to establish ore-grade intersections. In another soil-covered area, we used advanced geochemistry, Mobile Metal Ion, and carried out the orientation survey, known to unknown. It was a very satisfying and proud moment to see ore-grade intersections. There are several similar success stories in my career to date.
Non-technical issues include managing negotiations with landowners, drilling crews, etc. Language in remote areas and villages is a bit difficult to understand. To overcome this, we needed proper planning, CSR, and we had to explain well to the locals/landowners in their own language. Developing healthy community connections with the locals through different CSR activities is the key to working in any greenfield projects. The same goes for developing small-scale local employment. Another non-technical issue is to keep a prime focus on ESG and empowering the working partners to follow it.
BD: Core orientation is a fundamental aspect of exploration and drilling. Which method do you prefer and why? Do you have any horror stories about core orientation?
AK: I personally prefer electronic tools. They are accurate and trustworthy. Drillers need to understand well how to handle the tool. They need to be consistent in marking either the bottom or the top of the hole. Drillers should also maintain lines of accuracy and orientation that should be marked at the drill site.
I can tell you a few funny stories. One of my experiences was with a night shift driller that was marking the top of the hole, while the day shift driller was marking the bottom. Even after explaining it several times, it took some time to make them understand.
Another story is from the time when the mechanical tool – the downhole spear – was used. It was horrible if a driller did not understand how to handle it and the marking. Several times it happened that a geologist did not have any idea about orientation marking, QA-QC, data collection and plotting. So the data and the geology would not match, and geologists were questioning each other.
BD: You have a PhD in Igneous Petrology. Where was your field area and how has your research training helped your industry career?
AK: I completed my PhD in 2003 just after my MSc. I worked in one of the large igneous provinces, the Deccan basalts in Central India. My PhD topic was to establish the stratigraphy of the Bagli Volcanics. I studied the petrology, the detailed geochemistry, and paleomagnetism of each flow and also rock magnetic properties.
My degree is helping me understand magnetic surveys, since I studied the magnetic properties of rocks. That fundamental understanding of different elemental behavior is also helping me with geochemical surveys. Mapping of the mafic-ultramafic complex for nickel and PGE exploration helped me to identify the prospective lithologies.
I also learned how to establish stratigraphy in high-grade metamorphic terrains of volcanic sedimentary basins. Petrology, especially, is helping to understand the complex rock types and alteration halos. In one of the exploration blocks I have mapped meta-gabbro, yet the lithological setting was not convincing enough for me to give the rock this name. In old reports, it was mentioned as amphibolite. So, we cut the section and got a surprise as it was a calc-silicate rock.
BD: You’ve worked across many parts of India as an exploration geologist and researcher. The cultures, languages and geology can vary markedly from place to place. Are there any skills or mindsets that have helped you in your roles in these places?
AK: I faced a language problem during the initial stage of my career since I couldn’t speak Hindi and had to slowly learn it. I recommend learning different Indian languages, especially Hindi. Being independent of translators, helps fieldwork in remote areas tremendously.
Another problem I faced during my early days was related to the food habits of the people from other parts of India. It took me some time to get used to them. Being a geologist, one should be bold and humble while working in remote areas. Nowadays in several places, villagers also have knowledge of the exploration process, since they have associated with different exploration companies.
BD: You’re now in a senior management position in VedEx. Tell me about the company and the path your career has taken to get to your current role.
AK: The VedEx team is working on mostly greenfield areas, assessing the auction blocks for different commodities and in particular, the techno-commercial assessments of the project. Once we win the exploration block through auction, we carry out the detailed toll-gated exploration to establish the mineral inventory. Also, the team is supporting other business units of VedEx since its members are highly knowledgeable geoscientists with varied experience and backgrounds.
Currently, I am responsible for the development of litho-structural geological models for Hindustan Zinc mines. Other team members are supporting geophysical surveys and information technology.
In addition to my strong field technical skills in different commodities along with the understanding of the Indian geology, my management skills have helped me get the current role. Also having strong working experience in different geological terrains.
BD: Give me your thoughts on the skills needed to be a successful geologist in the Indian mining and exploration industry.
AK: Anywhere in the globe, the exploration process is the same, however, the Indian Archean and Proterozoic geological belts have undergone multiple phases of deformation. If a geologist has a good understanding of structural geology, petrology, geochemistry, and a basic idea about geophysical surveys, they will succeed anywhere. Exploration geologists must be flexible to work in different regions and with people from varied cultural backgrounds.
BD: Which geological environments do you most enjoy working in? And which deposit have you found most interesting?
AK: I’ve worked in different Indian geological belts from Archean to Proterozoic belts. When I was starting, I was enjoying the big hills that provide extensive exposure of the BIFs for kilometers. Currently, I enjoy working in Central India on a copper-gold system to identify the mineralization, generating targets and I hope to eventually take the project to the mining stage.
I find the Kayad deposit to be the most interesting and challenging. This deposit is located approx. 100 km (62 mi) West of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state. There I carried out a detailed underground mapping to develop ore controls and came across several textbook examples of structural geology. I can say it is a museum for geologists.
Another greenfield project I worked on in Central India was a rift basin called Mahakoshal belt. It has great exploration potential for different commodities. My first exploration posting was in the belt. It has an excellent hilly terrain, great ecosystem, nice local villagers – I’m still in touch with them – and mineralization systems. On the Mahakoshal belt, I got the opportunity to develop myself as an exploration geologist and received great mentoring from my manager.
BD: Historically, India has produced some world-famous structural geologists. Given that a big part of your work is focused on that particular field, what is your opinion of the structural geological skill levels of your teams?
AK: Yes, India has produced several world-famous structural geologists and some of them are teaching in universities.
There are several young geologists on my team, coming with a lot of textbook knowledge, but with limited field experience. They are now developing their skills by spending time in underground development, learning mapping and core logging. Whenever I get a chance, I try to spend time with them to develop their structural geological understanding. I can say we have mixed-experience geologists.
BD: We are seeing increasing implementation of new technology into mining and exploration geology. For example, drone surveys, core scanning and software such as Leapfrog. Are there technologies that you find particularly important for exploration? And do you think the use of these technologies is making better or worse field geologists?
AK: Yes, all these technologies are making for a better understanding. In the last couple of years, I’ve been working with Leapfrog to develop 3D models. These models contribute to the understanding of the orebody controls and provide a 3D view of the deposit, which helps to generate the drill targets, mine planning, ore production and address geotechnical concerns. It’s also helpful with reserve and resources calculations.
Currently, I am using Leapfrog to generate drill targets and for drill hole planning. This software is user-friendly, it’s easy to stack the multiple exploration layers, and view everything in 3D. VedEx as a group is moving towards digitalization and innovation in a big way and encourages and supports us to assess various technologies and then implement them in our activities.
Core scanning is also appearing to be very interesting. I’ve not used the technology much, but I have come across several successful stories.
BD: Without giving any secrets away, where do you think is highly prospective for finding new world-class orebodies in India?
AK: India has an enormous exploration potential to discover new orebodies. Most of my exploration experience is in Archean to Proterozoic belts. Indian geology is comparable to Australia, Canada and Africa. The mining industry in the country is one of the oldest on Earth. There are several ancient gold and base metals mining spots in different parts of India. Ancient mining is giving a clue to today’s exploration geologists to understand orebody controls.
In my childhood, my father used to say that if you want to see an elephant, go to elephant ground. The Kolar goldfield is giant, and the surrounding areas have potential. There are several potential belts which need advanced exploration in Dharwad Craton, Singhbhum Craton, Bastar Craton and Aravalli Craton.
To discover sedimentary exhalative (SEDEX)/Broken Hill-type (BHT) deposits, the Western part of India has great potential. Several rift basins in the region have a great potential for the discovery of a SEDEX deposit. I strongly believe that BHT-style ore bodies are yet to be discovered in India, especially in high-grade metamorphic terrains. In different places mafic-ultramafic complexes need keen attention to find Ni-PGE. There are excellent iron ore belts in different parts of India. Areas surrounding Khetri and Malanjkhand have the potential for copper. There are several other areas that require a closer look and regional-scale exploration.
BD: Many of the base metal mines in Proterozoic rocks in India are hosted by high metamorphic grade rocks. Are there any exploration criteria that are especially useful for exploring for this style of mineralization?
AK: Most Indian base metal mines are in the Aravalli Craton, and a number of different styles are represented. For example, the Rajpura-Dariba Belt deposits are SEDEX type, and we have mapped several locations with syngenetic ore overprinted by deformation. Another giant deposit is Rampura-Agucha, which I prefer to classify as BHT-type, and this is based on my working experience with this deposit style. Another small deposit is Kayad, which may also be a BHT. The Zawar deposit seems to be similar to Irish lead-zinc deposits. All of these deposits have undergone greenschist facies to granulite facies metamorphism. In addition to the deposit types just mentioned, there are several VMS-style prospects reported. Geologists should understand the characteristics of SEDEX/BHT-style deposits, in particular the tectonic setting, rift basin environment and geology, prior to undertaking exploration for these deposit styles. Knowledge of the appropriate guide and pathfinder minerals, breccias within the rift basin if exposed, and local litho-geochemical are also necessary.
BD: How does VedEx demonstrate diversity in its geology workforce?
AK: Our company is promoting diversity across key managerial and executive roles with a target to achieve 30% diversity by 2030. In my team currently, we have 50% diversity. There are several female geoscientists in charge of exploration or in senior positions.
BD: I’ve always been amazed at the longevity of past empires and their legacy in India, particularly when I worked with you in Rajasthan. What measures do you take to preserve ancient sites when you are exploring and mining?
AK: Yes, India had great mining activity in ancient times and senior colleagues in our company have dated it to 2500 years ago. During our exploration activities, we take care of the legacy by identifying these sites prior to entering a new area. We ensure proper barricading and permissions are in place before carrying out our exploration activities close to the ancient sites. In addition, we interact with local villagers to find out about other sites of importance to the community and ensure that they are preserved.
We have several geological monuments established by the Geological Survey of India. The Gossan Monument is located at the Rajpura-Dariba belts and another is at Zawar. Our company also built one museum at the Zawar area dedicated to ancient mining and smelting methods. There are several old temples that are taken care of by the Archaeology department.
BD: VedEx is a huge company. Do you get an opportunity to visit many of their mine sites, both to understand the geology and to share your expertise?
AK: Of course, our company is investing a lot in order to understand mine geology. I’ve visited all our Indian mining operations and contributed my expertise. It was also a good learning opportunity for me.
BD: How do you mentor your personnel on a professional basis?
AK: We encourage youngsters to develop their skills through professional internal training. I lead several training courses for entry-level professionals and senior geologists. I prefer personal interaction and to work with them closely in the field, so they can develop their skills. I led the meetings for the structural geologist community and as part of these, I organized training courses and overseas field visits for the team.
We also share several publications relevant to our operations. We have geological communities within our group of companies. The community meetings are held monthly and all geologists get together online or in-person and we share our experiences and expertise.
BD: What do you consider the most satisfying moment in your professional career so far?
AK: Two of the projects that come to my mind are when I got a BIF-hosted gold mineralization intersection in one of my exploration projects in the Dharwar Craton and an underground mapping project for our HZL mines to delineate orebody dimensions and controls. These two projects helped me develop myself.
The BIF-hosted gold prospect reported an economic mineral inventory and I was satisfied when it became a mineable deposit. The mapping project played a key role in ore production, mine planning and addressing geotechnical concerns.
In both instances, I felt proud to be a geologist. My fieldwork delivered several potential prospects and ore-grade intersections. I have dreamed to lead a team that discovers and develops a greenfield field mine. I think that will become my most satisfying moment.
BD: How has COVID-19 impacted your group and its exploration activities?
AK: There was an impact during the early days of COVID-19, due to the many restrictions and the fear of the unknown. We stuck to our field camp for two months without fieldwork just doing desktop work.
Slowly, we started fieldwork again with a lot of restrictions and safety protocols. But now we are working well, thanks to the excellent Indian vaccination drive.
BD: India has traditionally been viewed as a difficult jurisdiction for foreign companies to operate in when it comes to mining and exploration. Are you seeing any change in the number of non-Indian companies exploring in India?
AK: During the initial days of my career, so many big mining and exploration companies were holding exploration licenses. Nowadays exploration/mining blocks are allotted through auctions. It is an open market for any investor. My expectation is that bigger exploration blocks should be made available to allow regional-scale exploration using advanced technology. I am expecting that with a stabilization of the mineral policy, a lot of non-Indian companies will participate in exploration, as it is one of the major potential geological terrains.
BD: Finally, what is next in your career, Kasi-ji? Will you continue to maintain a strong fieldwork presence, or move across to increasing managerial roles?
AK: I am very keen to spend a lot of time in my field along with my managerial role. I’d like the next generation of geologists to recognize me as a successful exploration geologist. My dream is to get the National Mineral Award.
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