The Story of Voisey’s Bay: The Discovery (Part 1 of 3)
Presented by: Equitas Resources, “Nickel exploration in Labrador”
The legendary story of one of Canada’s most significant base metal discoveries happened just before the dawn of the internet era. While some investors recall the sequence of events and the value that was created by Diamond Fields, there are many investors today, both new and old, who are not familiar with the story of Voisey’s Bay.
For this infographic, we have turned to Jacquie McNish’s fabulous book The Big Score, which documents the history of the discovery, biographical elements of Robert Friedland’s life, and the ensuing bidding war between Inco and Falconbridge that led to one of the most spectacular takeovers in mining history. If you like these infographics, then look into buying Jacquie’s book. It was gripping and full of information.
By its very definition, a discovery is the breakthrough action of finding something of value that no one knew existed. Discoveries come in all shapes and sizes – but it turns out many of the very best discoveries happen in the most unsuspecting of conditions.
Labrador is located on the Northeast tip of Quebec in Canada, and it’s in this remote area that the Voisey’s Bay discovery takes place. Labrador is bigger than Great Britain and has over 8,000km of coastline, yet only a population of just 26,700. For context, caribou outnumber people in Labrador by a ratio of 13:1.
In 1985, geologists of the Newfoundland Department of Mines and Energy conducted a survey of one of the most remote parts of Labrador. Voisey’s Bay is 35km from Nain, a small town of 1,000 people.
The team, in a helicopter-supported survey, tested samples in the area, but were not encouraged by the low metal content of the weathered rocks exposed at surface. They left and didn’t look back.
In early 1993, Michael McMurrough of a fledgling company called Diamond Fields Resources was looking for untapped diamond properties to add to the company’s property portfolio. He had heard that a place called “Labrador” had ancient Archean rock formations – one of the earth’s oldest rock groups – where diamonds can form in kimberlite pipes. While Labrador’s wealth in iron ore is well-documented, no diamonds have ever been discovered in the region.
Diamond Fields’ geologist, Rod Baker, was sent to Newfoundland in April 1993 but found that the best diamond prospects had just been staked by two Newfoundlanders. Al Chislett and Chris Verbiski, and their prospecting outfit named Archean Resources, eventually convinced Diamond Fields to pay $372,000 in annual instalments over four years to acquire their claims. Diamond Fields also agreed to pay $500,000 to start an exploration program.
The two prospectors sampled throughout the summer of 1993 without much luck, but they did chip some samples of chalcopyrite, a copper-bearing mineral, from an outcrop. The samples came back with 2% copper, and they pushed for Diamond Fields to put more money into the exploration program.
At this time, Diamond Fields was a fledgling company. Running under Robert Friedland’s umbrella of Ivanhoe Capital, the company had its share of issues. Legal problems were mounting, and the company had finally just raised cash in a desperation move: the company impressed investors with its idea of “vacuuming” diamonds off the seafloor near Namibia.
It was company geologist Richard Garnett that convinced the board of Diamond Fields to pursue the Labrador findings, which he had been tracking. The company eventually was able to allocate $220,000 to Labrador – or 40% of what Chislett and Verbiski recommended for follow-up spending.
In August 1994, the prospectors received more detailed assays from the samples they collected – assays that confirmed a multi-element deposit with cobaltite, copper, magnetite, and exceptionally high amounts of nickel. In fall, the team tried to beat winter by executing the next phase of exploration.
On drill hole number two: they hit. The drill core was yellow – not from gold, but from high-grade massive sulphides. The hole was 33 metres long, and signified that Diamond Fields was finally onto something.
At this point, Robert Friedland reigned in control of the company with one mission: to auction off the discovery for the highest price.
20 Common Metal Alloys and What They’re Made Of
You can’t find stainless steel, brass, sterling silver, or white gold on the periodic table. Learn about 20 common metal alloys, and what they are made from.
Every day, you’re likely to encounter metals that cannot be found anywhere on the periodic table.
You may play a brass instrument while wearing a white gold necklace – or maybe you cook with a cast iron skillet and store your leftovers in a stainless steel refrigerator.
It’s likely that you know these common metal alloys by name, and you can probably even imagine what they look and feel like. But do you know what base metals these alloys are made of, exactly?
Common Metal Alloys
Today’s infographic comes to us from Alan’s Factory Outlet, and it breaks down metal and non-metal components that go into popular metal alloys.
In total, 20 alloys are highlighted, and they range from household names (i.e. bronze, sterling silver) to lesser-known metals that are crucial for industrial purposes (i.e. solder, gunmetal, magnox).
Humans make metal alloys for various reasons.
Some alloys have long-standing historical significance. For example, electrum is a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver (with trace amounts of copper) that was used to make the very first metal coins in ancient history.
However, most of the common metal alloys on the above list are actually human inventions that are used to achieve practical purposes. Some were innovated by brilliant metallurgists, while others were discovered by fluke, but they’ve all had an ongoing impact on our species over time.
Alloys with an Impact
The Bronze Age (3,000 BC – 1,200 BC) is an important historical period that is rightfully named after one game-changing development: the ability to use bronze. This alloy, made from copper and tin, was extremely useful to our ancestors because it is much stronger and harder than its component metals.
Steel is another great example of an alloy that has changed the world. It is one of the most important and widely-used metals today. Without steel, modern civilization (skyscrapers, bridges, etc.) simply wouldn’t be possible.
While nobody knows exactly who invented steel, the alloy has a widely-known cousin that was likely invented in somewhat accidental circumstances.
In 1912, English metallurgist Harry Brearley had been tasked with finding a more erosion-resistant steel for a small arms manufacturer, trying many variations of alloys with none seeming to be suitable. However, in his scrap metal heap – where almost all of the metals he tried were rusting – there was one gun barrel that remained astonishingly untouched.
The metal alloy – now known to the world as stainless steel – was a step forward in creating a corrosion-resistant steel that is now used in many applications ranging from medical uses to heavy industry.
How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Wave of Mineral Discoveries
Mineral exploration produces massive amounts of data. With AI, geologists can produce geological insights from this data to make the next discovery.
How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Mineral Discovery
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are rapidly proving their value across many industries.
Today’s infographic comes from GoldSpot Discoveries, and it shows that when this tech is applied to massive geological data sets, that there is growing potential to unlock the next wave of mineral discoveries.
Mineral Exploration: Fortunes Go to the Few
Discovering new sources of minerals, such as copper, gold, or even cobalt, can be notoriously difficult but also very rewarding. According to Goldspot, the chance of finding a new deposit is around 0.5%, with odds improving to 5% if exploration takes place near a known resource.
On the whole, mineral exploration has not been a winning prospect if you compare the total dollar spend and the actual value of the resulting discoveries.
Measuring Discovery Performance by Region (2005 to 2014)
|Region||Exploration Spend||Estimated Value of Discoveries||Value/Spend ratio|
|Australia||$13 billion||$13 billion||0.97|
|Canada||$25 billion||$19 billion||0.77|
|USA||$10 billion||$5 billion||0.48|
|Latin America||$33 billion||$19 billion||0.57|
|Pacific/SE Asia||$8 billion||$4 billion||0.49|
|Africa||$20 billion||$23 billion||1.19|
|Western Europe||$4 billion||$2 billion||0.42|
|Rest of World||$27 billion||$8 billion||0.32|
|Total||$140 billion||$93 billion||0.57|
Figures in 2014 dollars. (Source: MinEx Consulting, March 2015)
Aside from the geographic insights, on the surface this data reveals that mineral exploration does not pay for itself. That said, there are still significant discoveries worth billions of dollars – it’s just the returns go inordinately to a few small players that make big finds.
Much of the money spent on exploration may not have produced the next great discovery, but you can be sure it created massive volumes of data that could be used for further refining of exploration models.
So, What is the Problem?
Every exploration failure or success produces geological insights. The mineral exploration process is the source of massive amounts of data in the form of soil samples, chip samples, geochemistry, drill results, and assay results. Each drill hole is a tiny snapshot into the processes that form the earth.
A single drill hole can create 200 megabytes of data and when there are many drill holes coupled with other types of information, an exploration project can produce terabytes of data. If you wanted to compare your one project to hundreds of others to find the best insights, the amount of data becomes dizzying.
All these data points are clues that can be used to find new mineral deposits, but to sort through them is too much for even an entire team of capable geologists.
Luckily, using today’s technology, this data can now be used to train computers to spot the areas showing similar patterns to past discoveries.
The true power of AI will be in its ability to empower technically trained professionals to make decisions in an increasingly complex and data-driven world.
Professor Ajay Agrawal, a noted academic in AI and founder of the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, categorizes human activities into five categories:
- Data collection
- Information retrieval
He concludes that machines should do the first three and that humans – such as geologists, doctors, lawyers, investment bankers and others – should make the judgment calls and take the actions based on predictive capabilities of AI.
The mineral exploration industry presents a good example of how AI and big data can help technical professionals make discoveries faster, with less money, using a wide variety of data inputs created.
Opportunity Generator and the AI-friendly Future
AI can take the large amounts of data from many different projects in order to spot the right opportunities to further explore, building on decades of geological data from projects around the world.
The right technology can help reduce the risk inherent in exploration and lead to more mineral discoveries on budget, rewarding those that deployed their data most effectively. Companies that are able to harness this power will tip the scales in their favor.
As a result, mineral exploration is no longer so much an art of interpretation – but instead, it becomes closer to a pure science, giving geologists a whole-field perspective of all the data.
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