This May, AusIMM is hosting the inaugural Mineral Resource Estimation Conference which aims to showcase international excellence and leading best practice in resource estimation. In the lead up to the conference, we spoke to Conference Chair Rene Sterk and Committee Member Scott Dunham to find out more about the event and how it will shape the future of mineral resource estimation.
This is a brand new conference for AusIMM – why is now the right time to be talking about mineral resource estimation?
Scott Dunham (SD): – A lot of industries are seeing a fairly rapid technology change, which is also affecting resource estimation. The question is: is the effect going to be for better or worse? The conference will explore a range of issues and review the things that we’ve always done that may be changing, things we’ve always done that may not have been the best, and consider how we can take advantage of new technologies to improve mineral resource estimation going forward.
Rene Sterk (RS): – I don’t think we’ve ever really brought mineral resource estimators together in one room, and it’s so important because mineral resource estimation is really that point on the map where you get the first look at what you have and where a lot of very important decisions are made. The conference presents a great opportunity to discuss what we’re doing as a community and review if there are better ways of doing things.
What are the key challenges being faced by mineral resource estimators currently, and how will the conference address these challenges?
SD: – We’re seeing demand for new and different types of minerals as well as a raft of new technologies. For a lot of these new minerals we don’t have (estimation) examples and we don’t yet have widespread knowledge. As well as this disruption we’re seeing around new technologies, the primary products that feed into those technologies are also being disrupted. So how can we be sure that the practices we’ve used in the past are still fit for purpose going forward into new types of commodities? With the spread of commodities growing the conference will address this industry challenge.
RS: – This is what conferences are for; a place where the world’s best practitioners can come together and discuss these challenges and where the entrants in the industry can come and learn and participate in the discussions.
As the world moves to net zero, are there challenges unique to mineral resource estimation?
SD: – Understanding that there’s this big challenge facing the world going forward and how we address it is a big part of what this conference is about. It’s about looking at this challenge and asking things like: What do we have to do differently? What do we need to do better? How do we improve what we’re doing? And how can we contribute to being more efficient about the way we manage and utilise resources? More efficient and effective use of existing and newly discovered resources is crucial; better estimation practices are an essential part of the puzzle.
What themes are you seeing come through via the conference abstract submission process?
RS: - We do have a lot of papers being submitted on optimisation of drilling so the economics of planning resources. There’s also a theme that’s been developing over a number of years now about the quantification of geological uncertainty. And of course, we’ll have software and solutions as a theme because we do need these tools in our toolkit, so there’ll be some contributions from people talking about that.
SD: –I think that one of the things I’ve noticed with the abstracts this year is that some people are doing fairly traditional types of estimates, whereas others are trying novel and new approaches to estimation. But one of the things that sits under most of those papers is that there’s a willingness to show what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and to share that information with the rest of the industry which I think is great. It’s one of the things we need more of. We need to get out of our silos and start saying ‘Well this is how I’ve done it, and this is what’s worked, and this is what hasn’t. People can then start to learn from the experience of others. I think the practical implementation of this stuff is really critical to the industry going forward, and that’s what this conference should help people with.
How will the conference program challenge the status quo that exists in mineral resource estimation currently?
RS: – The conference program is structured around a participation model, with a balance between discussion panels and presentations. We will have the best papers presented on stage, talking about the various subjects that all keep us up at night, and what’s really leading the industry best practices. The panel discussions will encourage open dialogue, where we respectfully listen to one another and challenge opinions. There is so much information regarding workflow and experience that you can only really get when you’re interacting with your peers, so that’s why there’s such a strong focus in this particular conference.
SD: – Delegates are going to be participating in discussions that will lead the debate and lead the industry forward.
Can you share more about the topics being discussed in these panel sessions?
RS: - As a committee we wanted to strike a balance between thought-provoking and new ideas and also honour the classic components of the process that will always be important. We will have a session on software and tools to address the development and software improvements. We will also have a session on domaining, because this is still an absolutely critical part of the process and we’ve seen a lot of things in the last few years that have highlighted how important good domaining really is.
SD: – Finding the right people to put on the panels has been one of the key focusses for the committee. We’re looking for people who are going to challenge the status quo and look towards the future – encourage us to start exploring new ideas and new ways of doing things. All the panels will be really interesting, but I’m particularly looking forward to the geostatistics panel. Almost every estimate I look at these days is done using ordinary how much has that approach actually locked us into a single paradigm at the expense of looking at other options?
The domaining panel I’m sure will spark great discussion, great debate. It’s one that is near and dear to my heart and my own ideas on domaining have changed over the last 15-20 years. My original thinking was that domaining is utterly important and you’ve got to do everything perfectly right. Today, I think that maybe that might have changed a little bit, and so I’m interested to be part of the discussion on that panel.
In the software space, we know software is continuing to evolve and we’re seeing new tools, new options, speed of execution - long gone are the days when I would hit a button on a keyboard, walk away for a week and come back and hopefully the model had run. Now we can do things in seconds or minutes, which opens up a number of opportunities to the industry that we can explore.
So those three panels plus The Parker Challenge will really engage people and get them excited about the future.
Is there an exciting technique or technology that you’re looking forward to hearing more about at the conference?
SD: – I’m a resource estimation nerd so the whole thing is exciting to me. But I think the thing that excites me the most is getting people out of their comfort zones and recognising that we haven’t solved all the problems in the industry. These days it’s very easy to do an estimate, you set something up, hit some buttons, and you get something. The question is: is that fit for purpose? Is it usable? Does it answer the types of questions that need to be answered? That’s why the panel discussions I think are so important and this challenging the status quo is certainly going to be in the back of my mind when it comes to selecting the final presentations for which papers are going to be presented. I don’t want the standard paper that just says: do this, do that, do the other thing and here’s a result. I want a paper that says do this, this is what happens and this is the implications of what’s happened.
RS: - One thing I’m very interested in learning more about is the solutions that some people are coming up with to try and quantify geological uncertainty. I think it’s going to generate some really interesting discussion. And for me the most interesting thing about the conference is everybody getting together, having a cross section of what’s going on. I’ve as a practitioner myself I’ve always found it difficult to find comprehensive information about what’s going on. And getting this information only happens by sitting in a room together, having papers presented to us, a discussion forum and talking to each other – it forms a good reference for people for years to come. For me, the excitement is the sharing of ideas that will make a big impact on this industry.