Phil Van-Lane on working for Lakeshore Gold

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Phil Van-Lane
What on Earth: Volume 7 2011

After studying pictures and small pieces of rocks and minerals in first year at the University of Waterloo, I finally got to experience the practical side of geology this summer working for the exploration department of a gold company. I could finally see firsthand how all the pieces came together; each little bit of information completing the puzzle that would determine the company’s path.
My employment began in May at Lake Shore Gold Corp. in Timmins, Ontario. How did I get the job? I have networking to thank for that. The opportunity actually came from a University of Waterloo alumni dinner in Timmins that I attended. It turns out that a great number of geologists working in Timmins are from University of Waterloo (including both the President/CEO and VP of Exploration of Lake Shore); earth scientists of Waterloo stay strong!
Lake Shore also gave a tour of their Timmins West mine to us university visitors. We were fortunate to learn about and see a lot of the mine’s operations… although we didn’t quite make it to the 6:30am geologists’ meeting that kicks off every day (even in exploration, I quickly found that going to bed early was a virtue).
Signals and their meanings for working the mine elevator

Signals and their meanings for working the mine elevator.

All decked out in our boots, coveralls, and hard hats complete with headlamps, we took the elevator down to check out the equipment and miners at work. The system used for signaling how far to go was very neat; there were designated codes, each consisting of varying numbers of bells and pauses between them. Every area had a different series of bells.
Machine piled high with ore, at work in the mine

Machine piled high with ore, at work in the mine.

When we got in the mine, there were endless wide tunnels to accommodate all of the large (and often deafening) heavy equipment trundling around. As well as the vehicles, there were underground diamond drills digging up valuable core from right inside the mine to be logged. There were geologists working too of course, often marking intervals to be sampled on the tunnel walls.
Box of core samples, waiting to be analyzed

Box of core samples, waiting to be analyzed.

And although I ended up working in the exploration office instead of the actual mine, the dark and exotic underground atmosphere did have a certain intriguing appeal.
What I learned from my time in exploration: core is everything (core is knowledge, and we all know knowledge is power). Core from surface drills out in the field and underground cores already in the mine are analyzed faithfully by the geologists in the core shacks. They record the geological information as well as marking samples to be assayed (which determines with reasonable accuracy the percentage of gold in the material). All of this goes into the database which is used to produce a resource block model (which is constantly being updated as new information is gathered). This incorporates the lithologies and assay figures and provides the basis for developmental decisions.
A geologist, hard at work in the mine making measurements.

A geologist, hard at work in the mine making measurements.

Of course, sometimes a lot of work has already been done on a property by others before a company sets up a mine! Due to the tremendous price of gold, some properties that weren’t worth mining before have a lot of potential now. A large portion of my job was to compile all the historical log and assay information for a project (that other companies had gathered from exploratory drilling). It has to be validated of course, which is accomplished through re-running some of the old samples and even drilling “twin” holes.
That was another part of my job; two of us went out each day for a couple of weeks to take a look at old core from historical drillings. We would bag specific old samples so they could be re-assayed and perform specific gravity measurements on them as well. Getting to that work was not always quick though! Often we had to cut down brush that had grown around the core farm and rig up a tarp when it was raining to protect us (and more importantly, our equipment). We also spent a few days marching around in a bug-infested swamp looking for and marking the historical drill hole sites and casings… the fun part of the summer! In truth that was quite enjoyable, there was nothing more satisfying than finding the right casing after slogging around for an hour (assuming the hole numbers could be read, which wasn’t as often as ideal).
I went into the job not knowing quite what to expect, but I enjoyed all of it. I even got used to waking up at 5:30am! (and this is from someone who would sleep in past 1:00pm every chance I could). I know for certain I picked the perfect career for me. So to all geologists, rock on!