Competition leads to a common path

by Richard Roberts, HighGrade | Jul 04, 2012
TWELVE years it has taken, but frustration has turned to anticipation now at the new digs of two of the world’s leading structural-economic geologists.

Dr Jun Cowan and Dr Brett Davis have created Orefind, a name that encapsulates the obvious given the number of significant mineral deposits with which the pair are associated. As for finding major new ones, that is surely among the exciting possibilities now that the two have combined the knowledge and experience gained from more than two decades of work with leading consulting firms, mining companies, and their own practices.

Then there’s the not-so-secret weapon – the implicit geological modelling tool known as Leapfrog that Cowan has spent a decade refining, and using (more than 500 deposits modelled worldwide), and that he developed in the wake of Canadian-based Goldcorp’s celebrated Red Lake Challenge back in 2000.

The winners of that competition, Fractal Graphics and Vic Wall Associates, produced a Vulcan-digitised model which took about a year for one consultant geologist to generate (in reality the firms are believed to have had about 10 geologists working full time over several months).

“I took part in that competition for SRK and the Challenge was one of the catalysts for Leapfrog development, as I found it frustratingly slow to interpret drill-hole data,” Cowan told HighGrade.

Twelve years on and he is using the same Challenge data to teach students at the University of Tasmania to build complete geological models in one-and-a-half days – and another 36 hours to teach the software to those who’ve never used it before, and teach students how to intelligently target deposits!

“Last month I ran this course and 25 models were produced by 25 students and talks were given on the exploration strategies based on their insights from modelling the deposit,” Cowan said.

“This was a dream back in 2001 when I conceived Leapfrog, but now it is a reality and this change in reality represents a huge business opportunity for us.”

Cowan, who was working with SRK Consulting when he started researching a new 3D-interpolation-based modelling method to process drill-hole data and ultimately teamed with mathematicians at ARANZ in New Zealand to crack the interpolation code, so to speak, has crossed paths with colleague Davis many times over the past 20 years.

The latter started his career as a mine geologist at Mount Isa (George Fisher) before completing Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship research on slate belt gold mineralisation and the tectonics of north Queensland in the mid-1990s. He did further postdoctoral research on volcanic assemblages and sedimentary basin formation, and between 1992 and 1998 published a series of scientific papers on topics ranging from deformation processes and regional geology, to slate belt gold and IOCG skarn mineralisation to sediment-hosted lead-zinc.

When he came back to ‘practical’ mining and exploration in 1999 Davis spent time at Delta Gold and then joined a rival consulting firm (to SRK), RSG Global.

Orefind principals Brett Davis (left) and Jun Cowan.

Like Cowan, Davis also worked in Canada (with Dundee Precious Metals). Cowan did his PhD research on deformation of the famous Sudbury Basin impact structure. His Australian consulting firm Prestologic essentially competed with Davis’ Olinda Gold, but demand for their expertise ensured there would be no bidding duels.

Suffice to say, the work they haven’t done together around the world over the past 20-plus years would take up too much space here.

“Orefind is here to completely ignore the old rules and what has gone on before, and operate in a landscape that did not exist a decade ago,” Cowan says rather loftily.

“We’re doing this through insights gained from our industry experience and through our innovations. We believe we are quite different from other consulting firms.

“Instead of focusing on increasing billable hours, as all consulting companies do, we’re taking a reverse approach – to deliver value to companies the fastest way possible … combining old-fashioned scientific investigation and new advanced technology.

“We do not agree that slow geological modelling and sectional interpretation to be beneficial to any company – it’s what my high school teacher wife calls ‘busy work’. We believe we can deliver better results in a fraction of the time. Time is money, and companies require analysis and results fast, and we believe we can deliver this.”

Prior to pressing the ‘start’ button on their new website, Cowan and Davis say workwise they’re booked up until December.

“Geologists in the industry have used Leapfrog largely as a black-box, with no geological intelligence incorporated into its use,” Cowan said.

Christchurch-based ARANZ Geo must train users extensively to use Leapfrog, hence the ‘black-box’ label. For his part, Cowan claims he no longer benefits from sales of the software as was previously (prior to this year) the case.

“What is exciting about our [Orefind] work is that Leapfrog software was developed for a specific purpose – as a fast geological tool, not a fast black box, and we are sharing this with our customers through our consulting engagements,” he said.

“A fast practical geological analysis tool was needed first to do what we wanted to do, to analyse deposits effectively, so Leapfrog was developed over the last decade. Now, we’ve come to the implementation stage of the tool … and we’re doing this through Orefind.

“The mission of Orefind is to make a measureable material difference to mineral exploration and mining projects through an integrated data collection and modelling approach.”

Orefind’s philosophy and approach
THE Orefind principals say an overwhelming proportion of the world’s mineral occurrences were formed by tectonic processes and structural geological controls at the deposit-scale.
Orefind conducts geological investigations that focus on resolving the structural history, architecture and controls to mineralisation through on-site collaboration with exploration and mining geologists. “Mentoring of geological personnel is commonly a critical component of this approach,” the consultancy says.
Orefind follows an iterative approach to data collection, interpretation and modelling. Observations and data from ongoing outcrop, core and mine sources are used to progressively update an interactive 3D model built with Leapfrog. Geometric and overprinting relationships apparent in the model are then used to focus ongoing work at the deposit and project scales.
“A conclusion that we have reached during investigation of hundreds of mineral occurrences is that structural geometry represents the fundamental control on the flow of mineralising fluids and the deposition of mineralisation,” says Jun Cowan.
“A critical component that is commonly overlooked in many deposits, especially during the crucially important early stages of initial resource evaluation, is a solid geological history that integrates the deposit paragenesis with the structural history. Too often, drilling programs are poorly conceived due to a lack of careful documentation. Orefind addresses this problem and integrates structural geological and paragenetic with the other critical dimension of a 3D geological model that incorporates all datasets.”
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