Rules of Thumb for Mineral Exploration Success

By: Erik Ronald, PG

Mining Geology HQ

16 February 2016

I’d like to share a list of what I feel are fundamental attributes for success in mineral exploration. This list is compiled from a variety of publications from successful explorers, especially David Lowell and Dan Wood, in addition to my personal experiences from exploring for a variety of commodities in the western U.S., central Mexico, and Australia.

  1. Discovery-focused culture – It may sound like a chapter from an introductory MBA course, but setting company or exploration team culture is probably the most critical. A discovery-focused culture means supportive and strategically oriented management, openness to challenge geologic/deposit dogma, acceptance that “dry” holes will be frequent but beneficial, willingness to “have a go”, and passion for geology. It’s rare to find all of these traits in an exploration team these days due to budget constraints,  a “what have you done for me lately” attitude in companies, or a few toxic personalities which can quickly erode a team.
  2. Good science – I’m not talking about loading a team full of PhD’s of obscure academic topics. I’m talking about having sound knowledge of all aspects of geology, understanding mining constraints, economics, metallurgy, and being able to apply the scientific method of formulating a hypothesis, experimenting, testing, analyzing and repeating.
  3. Diverse team – I’ve found that the more diverse the team, the more diverse the theories, ideas, and solutions that will be generated. An exploration team composed of both deposit experts and multi-commodity experience will nearly always produce better results than a room full of commodity-specific people. Additionally, people from different schools, countries, cultures and even an equal mix of male/female will typically result in more varied and diverse ideas.
  4. Drill – As much as I’m a fan of geophysics, obscure chemical analyses, and the latest 3D software (all of which are useful!), ore bodies are found by drilling. Typically lots and lots of drilling. If your ore body had a surface expression, chances are it was found sometime between the ancient Egyptians to the early 1980’s. Unfortunately, these days we tend to be hunting in covered or complex areas which require healthy drill budgets. It may be 1000 aircore holes or 1000 deep diamond drill core holes but either way, you must drill to find.
  5. Separation from the “corporate” culture – The corporate culture of today is littered with business improvement, short-term quarterly focus, cost optimization, KPI targets, and a general culture of endless meetings with little action. These aspects have merits in particular industries but they tend to hinder creativity and the long-term thinking required for exploration success. LEAN and its cousin six-sigma are wonderful productivity tools if you’re say, Toyota or making washing machines.  These tools do not foster creative thought. Additionally, when your KPI focus is on maximizing productivity or drill meters or costs…that’s what you’ll get, not the next discovery. Exploration is more equivalent to mining R&D. Letting creative, curious, and scientifically minded people work on their own terms tend to yield better results. If you’re in doubt, just go ask Google, Airbnb or Uber.
  6. People who have made discoveries before, will likely do it again – There’s not too much to say here other than if you work with one of these people, listen to what they have to say! Certain human beings possess the unique combination of intelligence, intuition, passion and luck. Others do not.
  7. Ability to leave your ego at the door – There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your experience, education or career. The problem arises when you think that awkward graduate summer student or driller can’t teach you anything. Realize the old adage of  “the geologist who sees the most rocks wins”, so go visit the rock quarry down the road to learn more about the geology, do as many site visits as possible and always keep an open mind. This is all about the ability to learn, work with others, and realize every single person you meet or every mine you visit can teach you something, if you’re willing to listen.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find these rules helpful, insightful or conversation-starting. I’d enjoy hearing from explorers and promoters out there on their thoughts, what I may have missed or additional “rules”. Cheers!


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Posted in Mineral Exploration.

One Comment

  1. Rules of thumb from my years at Gold Fields Mining (US) during their incredibly productive years from 75 to 92: no copier and no electric pencil sharperns. Geologists should be in the field.

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