Have you ever thought about the impact drilling has in our everyday life? Sure, when we get a glass of water or fill up our vehicle with fuel, those of us in the drilling industry give a little nod to drilling. But when was the last time you looked beyond water, oil and gas? A large part of drilling around the world is dedicated to the exploration of precious metals and minerals. The essential components that make up a cell phone will include gold, silver, palladium, platinum, aluminum and copper — before you even add the battery. The battery will consist of lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel. These materials are mined all around the world and brought together to make our smart technologies.
In my career, mineral exploration has taken me to some exotic places like Winnemucca, Nev., the Atacama Desert, the Andes mountains, Val-d’Or, Quebec and Toronto. In March, I headed north to the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention in Toronto. The PDAC is one of the biggest mining conventions in the world; the attendance totaled 25,606 people from 130 countries. The annual event hosts people, companies and organizations in, or connected to, mineral exploration. The convention was very busy with short courses and technical sessions about mining practices, environmental impact, safety and investing. The trade show included two exhibitor floors and an investors’ exchange.
Entering the exhibitor floor was more like traveling to a new country every 20 feet. Afghanistan was promoting their vast supplies of copper, lithium, gold and cobalt. Many mining developers believe that Afghanistan will have a considerable impact on the minerals market in years to come.
Twenty feet farther along, I walked into Peru’s colossal exhibitor booth. The booth was crowded with mining professionals and Peruvian business developers. The motto across the booth’s header said, “Peru, the Richest Country,” and that motto could not be more exact. Peru is the third largest producer of copper and seventh largest producer of gold in the world. Mining has been a significant economic driver for Peru since the Incan empire.
Beyond that, I visited Chile, China, Africa, Mexico and Canada. The Canadian booth was an epic centerpiece among all the exhibitors. In the center of the booth, they had a stage and podium to present short courses on Canada’s endless mineral resources, from their west coast to extreme northeast. In a few hours’ time, I had learned about western Canadian potash and coal; northeastern gold, copper, nickel and zinc mines; and the Northwest Territories’ iron, silver and lead deposits. It was awe-inspiring to learn about Canada’s wide variety of minerals.
Next, I walked over to the investor exchange. This exhibit hall was all about investment opportunities for major established mines, medium-sized mines, small exploration companies and prospectors. Investors were walking from booth to booth learning about new ventures and opportunities to invest. If you have ever seen the movie “Gold” with Matthew McConaughey, the selling style was the same. The first booth I entered, two gentlemen were discussing the benefits of graphite mining and its increased demand in steel and foundry industries. Next, I learned about a small gold mine in Idaho that needed to raise just $2 million to continue operations. The most unique opportunity I learned about was a company raising money for multiple uranium mining projects throughout the world.
The final component of the PDAC conference was the exhibitors presenting new technology. Mining is a complicated process that takes place in very remote locations. New technology allows companies to explore deeper and operate farther away from established civilization. I witnessed these technologies firsthand when I worked at the Antamina mine in the Atacama Desert. The site has an altitude of 13,700 feet and an average annual rainfall of just half an inch.
New technology gives miners the ability to communicate, work, and live safely in harsh and remote conditions. It all starts with communication, and at the Network Innovations Inc. booths, they explained to me that their innovative solution is to combine satellite technology with radio receivers. This cross-banding allows for a very reliable communications signal. A mining company’s ability to give and receive data allows for less travel on dangerous roads between the mine and civilization.
Next, at the Baroid Industrial Drilling Products booth, they were presenting their new wireline coring downhole delivery tools. The first was for loss circulation material, and their new device allows them to deliver it to greater depths. The second was an internal powered bridge plug tool that allows for setting a plug at any depth without retracting tooling.
Next, I stopped by the Derrick Equipment booth to learn about their new shakers. Derrick’s first high-speed shaker was introduced into mining in 1951, and they have continued to lead the industry in new shaker technology ever since. The gentlemen there explained how their Polyweb screens handle all the rigors of abrasive material and last longer than any other screen on the market.
Finally, I stopped by the Layne Christensen booth to learn about their new hands-free rod handling technology, the “ARM.” Layne is pushing the cutting edge of innovation and safety by keeping drillers and helpers from handling drill rod. These were just a few of many companies that introduced new technologies and products at the conference.
If you ever get a chance to travel to Canada, you will experience a world of varying cultures. Canadians embrace a new culture and welcome it into everyday life. The PDAC exemplifies that concept with 130 countries all coming together to discuss and promote mining and exploration. At any moment, I could hear multiple nationalities doing business in two languages. The PDAC offered great insight into the mining industry with many experts and analysts to answer industry questions. The investor exchange provided opportunities for entry-level investors all the way up to full-scale funding of a mine. It is an exciting time for mining and minerals exploration. You could feel the positivity in the air, and it was obvious that many mines and companies are very excited for 2018. The price of precious metals is moving up once again, and it is a great time to be in or invest in the mining industry.