Tech Style

Just as driverless cars will soon alter the look of our roads forever, and Amazon will almost certainly help you pick your book to read, technology is about to change the world of mining. From automated vehicles to crowdsourced data analysis to precision sensors, mining companies are rushing to take advantage of tech advances to make their projects safer, cheaper and more productive.

Montreal-based Falco Resources Ltd., (TSX-V: FPC), one of the largest claim holders in the Abitibi region of Quebec, is counting on technology to make its new $905-million operation a success. Vincent Metcalfe, the company’s chief financial officer, says the old mine in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., was in production from 1927 to 1976 and produced 11 million ounces of gold and 2.5 billion pounds of copper, then went into dormancy for 40 years. He spoke on a video interview recorded recently at the Precious Metals Summit in Beaver Creek, Colo. “We looked at the historical data from Noranda, and we digitized that,” he says, “and essentially are looking to put it (back) in production.”

This brings to mind one of the most famous examples of using “the wisdom of the crowd” in analyzing resource data. As Don Tapscott and Anthony Willliams described in
their 2007 book Wikinomics,Vancouver-based Goldcorp, Inc. turned the secretive mining industry on its head after the company’s CEO spent some time at MIT. Their in-house geologists were struggling to figure out where to find gold on the company’s 55,000-acre property in Northern Ontario. Rob McEwen was exposed to how open-source development had made the Linux operating system better than any one developer or team possibly could. Would that work for mining data?

In 2000, Goldcorp offered $575,000 of prize money to anyone, amateur or professional, who could point them to their gold. As noted in Wikinomics, the results were stunning, yielding “110 targets on the Red Lake property, 50 percent of which had not been previously identified by the company. Over 80 percent of the new targets yielded substantial quantities of gold.”

Vancouver-based Integra Gold Corp. (TSV-V: ICG) copied this approach in 2015, offering $1 million in prizes “to help lead us to the next big gold discovery in Val-d’Or.” The challenge was hosted on HeroX, a crowdsource challenge platform started by XPrize creator Peter Diamandis. It involved sifting through 75 years of mining data, 6 terabytes, from the bankrupt Sigma and Lamaque mines. The contest motto was “Crunch Data and Strike it Rich”.

Here’s how their challenge was described on HeroX: “Somewhere within the 2.7-million-year-old geology of the Canadian Shield, there was a treasure waiting to be found. However, at more than 6 terabytes, the sheer volume of data we now have on these mines would take Integra years to analyze on our own. We need a faster and more cost-effective method to analyze and interpret the data to identify additional gold targets.”

Who won? In March 2016, SCS Geostat, a Quebec geological engineering company scored the $500,000 top prize. Other winners came from as far away as Vancouver and Perth, Western Australia. The judging panel, which included research scientists, geologists and Queen’s University adjunct professor Jim Franklin, sifted through the 1,332 entries and listened to presentations by the top five finalists. We will have to watch this company to find out if they can replicate Goldcorp’s success.

Back at the mine, Falco’s operations, which are scheduled to start in 2020 or 2021, will include innovations such as remote teleoperation, which will allow operators at the surface to control underground equipment such as loaders. Other functions that will be largely automated include ventilation, paste backfill distribution, water pumping and staff and equipment location.

For a broader perspective on technology innovations in mining, you would do well to have a look at the free e-book “100 Innovations in the Mining Industry” created by the
industry group Minalliance. They scoured the world’s principal mining regions (Canada, Australia, United States, Europe, South Africa and Chile) to compile a list with everything from AVIRIS airborne sensors to hydroseeding for mine-site landscaping.

The authors identified key trends including smarter exploration, more efficient mining, safer working conditions and a more environmentally responsible industry. They also noted the increasing rate of progress in mining tech, since most of the innovations they cover were created in the last decade.

The miners who went into the Noranda mine in 1927, or Alberta’s Atlas Coal Mine, which operated from 1911 to 1984, probably wouldn’t recognize the workplaces that are now on the drawing boards. But they would be glad to know that they are going to be a lot safer, more productive and kinder to the environment.

Dr. Tom Keenan is an award-winning journalist, public speaker, professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, and author of the best-selling book Technocreep, available at

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