Abitibi Geophysics ready for mining turnaround
New office in Thunder Bay opens doors to northwestern Ontario and Western Canada
In Thunder Bay, the name “Abitibi” is synonymous with pulp and paper.
Pam Coles, regional manager for Abitibi Geophysics Ltd., said that there’s no relation to the former forestry giant, but it’s a question she’s fielded a lot in the year since the Val d’Or-based company opened a branch office in Thunder Bay in May 2013.
The fact that this Abitibi is a mining services company located in the old Buchanan Forest Products building – along with other mining-related companies – is certainly symbolic of the changes going on in northwestern Ontario’s resource sector.
“We were looking to expand our business, especially in Ontario. We’ve come to the conclusion that Thunder Bay is going to be the next mining hub …. There’s a lot of potential here,” Coles said. “It’s been a pretty rough year [in the mining sector overall], but when things pick up again, we’re here and we’re ready.”
Abitibi Geophysics specializes in determining the physical properties of rocks below ground. Using a variety of tools and approaches, including induced polarization, magnetic surveys, and gravity surveys, the company provides 2D and 3D “maps” of the mineralization in a target area to assist with establishing drill targets and mine planning.
The company works primarily with exploration companies, but also works with operational mines planning expansions.
The use of geophysics in mining exploration is not new, but it is being used more and more as exploration companies look deeper for deposits. It won’t replace drilling in the foreseeable future, Coles said. Instead, it helps companies target their drills to reduce drilling costs. It’s a highly tech- driven area of exploration – and the technology is advancing rapidly.
Abitibi Geophysics develops proprietary systems and approaches in-house.
“For induced polarization, for example, we have several different array types that we have designed. We’ve also designed our own electromagnetic sensor and transmitters, so we do have some proprietary equipment,” Coles said.
One such proprietary survey design is the OreVision IP (induced polarization), which uses multi- conductor cables to penetrate deeper into the ground than conventional IP – up to 400 per cent deeper, according to company literature – for roughly the same price.
Theoretically, this type of penetration is possible using conventional IP, but it’s not practical or cost effective to lay out that many electrodes along a cutline.
“Every electrode has to have a wire going to each one, but you can’t have 40 wires in your line – it’s just going to be a big mess,” Coles said. Abitibi Geophysics doesn’t use more than 10 wires in conventional IP. “You’re going to lose time and you’re going to lose equipment because all your wires are going to get tangled.”
The multi-conductor cable, on the other hand, has an output at every 25 or 50 metres, allowing the same result using just one long cable.
The cable itself is used as part of itsI-Power 3D survey design, which can create 3D representations of the mineral deposits below. Other surveys unique to Abitibi Geophysics include its twoin- one ARMIT- TDEM which measures B-field and dB/dt in a single pass, and Gravilog (built by partner Scintrex), which the company touts as the first down-hole survey method.
Abitibi Geophysics is developing a borehole version of the ARMIT-TDEM, which it hopes to prototype later in 2014, Coles said.
In February 2014, Abitibi Geophysics also partnered with Toronto-based JVX Advanced Geophysics to combine technologies for a borehole 3D IP.
This approach will increase resolution at deeper levels and allow survey teams to find new drill targets. “If you have a borehole, there is no reason you shouldn’t come in and survey with a borehole tool before drilling more holes. It’s way, way, cheaper and you’re going to get a lot more information,” Coles said.
Opening a new office in Thunder Bay made sense over Sudbury and Timmins because northeastern Ontario is served by their relatively close Val d’Or headquarters. The Thunder Bay office puts them closer to the Ring of Fire and other mines in the area, as well as to Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where it has already landed some work.
A third branch is located in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Company-wide, Abitibi Geophysics employs about 30 full-time employees and 60 contract field workers.
Coles said that work in the field has started to pick up over last year, which may be a sign that the mining sector may be about to head into a recovery phase.
“Just based on how busy we were this winter, it might be turning around a little bit,” Coles said. “We’ve probably been a little bit busier in Quebec than Ontario but… we are definitely busier than last year.”