Faster, cheaper, leaner and greener
Courtesy Shawn Ryan
Shawn Ryan has cracked the code.
That’s how he described the system he developed with GroundTruth Exploration, which is poised to revolutionize the way mineral deposits are found.
Ryan still walks the wilds of the Yukon, taking soil samples and researching targets; that hasn’t changed.
But once a promising area has been found, Ryan’s new high-tech system kicks in.
Using drones, geophysical imaging and on-site mineral analysis, work that used to take two years and upwards of half a million dollars can be completed cheaper, quicker and with nearly zero environmental footprint.
“What normally would take two field seasons and 500-700 grand, we’re now doing in two weeks and for under 100,000,” said Ryan.
Secret number one - understand the topography.
Using lightweight drones from Switzerland, Ryan and his team are able to produce a high-resolution topographical picture of the area in question. “This way I can actually give the clients the chance to make an informed decision,” said Ryan. “In the past, half the time they’re just putting a dot on a map and saying, “Drill here,” without understanding the terrain.”
“Now, they can see where the big spruce trees are. They can see where the open country is.” The search can be fine-tuned in this way.
Secret number two - see into the Earth.
Ryan re-purposed geophysical tools normally used to find underground water or sinkholes to find mineral deposits instead. “We brought that into our mix last year, and no one believed it, it was too simple,” said Ryan. “Why didn’t they start doing this 30 years ago?”
It’s actually not a new idea to use DC-resistivity to get an underground picture, but Ryan is getting a 420-metre cross section image that he says pinpoints an ore deposit down to the metre. They’ve never had such an accurate picture underground. Still, at this point in the process, all you’ve got are images - you’ve still got to get dirty.
Courtesy Shawn Ryan
“You’re never 100 per cent confident. So you might have three cracks, but which one is the gold-bearing crack?”
Secret number three - no digging.
Ryan’s colleague Tao Henderson developed a lightweight soil-coring tool, called the Geoprobe, that punches a hole down six to nine feet to the bedrock interface, and delivers a tube of dirt and rock chips.
That sample is then scanned, on site, with an X-ray fluorescent device, which tells you what kind of minerals you’re dealing with.
Secret number four - real-time search refinement. Every evening, the field crew sends their findings back to headquarters via satellite Internet. “These guys are in pup tents with a satellite dish outside - they email us the data every night,” said Ryan. “We can give our customers results by midnight or 1 a.m.”
“Everybody’s engaged now. It’s not a waiting game, where two months later you get a report.”
From there, the process moves on to using a rotary air blast drill to get core samples down to 100 metres, but only in primo spots already sussed out.
The beauty of this method, compared to the old trenching method, is the light ecological footprint.
“The cool part of all of this is, this doesn’t even break the class one threshold under our mining land use policies,” said Ryan. “Historically, when you stake a mining claim, you apply for the maximum permitting - 100 drill holes, ten kilometres of trenching - because you didn’t know what you were going to face,” he said. “Now, we go in, evaluate the ground in a couple weeks, figure out where our target is, then apply for a permit without all the parameters.”
Ryan started thinking about the process a year-and-a-half ago. As the exploration market contracted from it’s 2011 peak, Ryan wanted to find an up-to-date method that was also cheap, in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.
During the boom, a junior mining company had millions to put in exploration. “They were hunting with a machine gun,” he said.
Now it’s back to lean and mean. They had to re-learn how to make do with less again, but with the latest in computing technology.
GroundTruth spent last season doing research and development, while working commercially as well.
A series of case studies using the new process were done, in partnership with the Yukon Geological Survey, to prove up the method.
Ryan presented the findings earlier this month at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto.
He’s also planning to present the idea at the Yukon First Nations Resource Conference next week in Whitehorse.
“Hopefully this will help bridge this gap with environmentalists and First Nations,” said Ryan. “Because, inevitably, we need metal, we can’t live without it.”
“I look at mineral deposits as gifts from the land, like a herd of sheep, or a moose,” said Ryan. “Everybody’s against development now, but we should understand where the minerals are, just like we understand where the moose are.”
“Whether we do anything with them, that’s another story.”
Contact Ian Stewart at