X Marks the Spot

Aurora Geosciences

The company offers the industry a complete solution, and “can do anything from soil sampling all the way to drill project management and project integration.” This wide range of capabilities sets Aurora Geosciences apart. “You can find geological companies and you can find geophysical companies, but very few can do both out of their shops,” Mr. Vivian points out.

Aurora Geosciences is also the only company providing professional geological and geophysical services that are both operated in and based in the North. The 34 year old consulting and contracting business has offices in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; and Juneau, Alaska, so it is able to successfully carry out jobs throughout the region. Not surprisingly, the company’s capabilities and geographical range have earned work with top notch clients, including recent projects with Dominion Diamond Corporation and Kennady Diamonds.

The company is a leader in innovative geophysical technologies and puts a great deal of effort and investment into R&D. “We are scientists,” Mr. Vivian explains. “We are always looking for leading edge technology, for something that might look a little deeper, find smaller deposits.” Having these capabilities has never been more important than now, he adds. “It is pretty well understood that a lot of the large, elephant sized deposits have been found.” This means that locating remaining deposits will require scientists to look “a little deeper than most tools look right now.”

Digging deeper has to be balanced against financial constraints, however. In other words, “How deep do you go before something becomes uneconomic?” Mr. Vivian questions. The industry is wrestling with the answer as elephant sized deposits become increasingly elusive.
Top notch technology is crucial, but it takes more than that to keep clients happy. Dependability and ongoing support are also key. “We always try to go above and beyond,” Mr. Vivian insists. For instance, the company makes sure that clients can always reach a staff member, no matter what the time or day. “When a client calls with a concern, we make sure we are there to answer. Our administration side is basically on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I really feel like, in the mining business, that is the way that it has to be. We feel that is the only way you can operate a consulting and contracting firm. You have to make sure that you can answer anybody’s questions whenever they call.”

This commitment to customer satisfaction and relationship building is also foundational to the company’s marketing strategy; happy customers stay on with the company and they drum up new business through word of mouth. “Our marketing strategy has always been to knock on people’s doors, to make sure we are there to hand off a report at the end of a job and to make sure that we have face time with all of our clients,” Mr. Vivian says. “We do spend a lot of money on marketing, but I still find the best tool for marketing is being able to knock on somebody’s door and sit with them face to face.”

Aurora Geosciences has also managed to overcome the challenges that come with working in the North. The main obstacle is the lack of infrastructure, Mr. Vivian says. Virtually everywhere the team goes, they have to fly. And, they must be prepared to stay in far flung locations and harsh environments for long periods of time. “You have to use an aircraft to access your projects, so it is very critical to be well organized before you go, and to understand that you are only going to get a plane once a week,” Mr. Vivian explains. “Your people have to know how to plan and organize properly.”

Working in the North has also given the company a crucial understanding of the people living there, which in turn helps the team to respect their rights and their wishes. “I think we have a very good understanding of the social responsibilities that we have,” he explains. One important responsibility is to make sure that locals are included in every project. “I think part of our social responsibility is to engage the communities that we work closely with,” Mr. Vivian points out. “With any job we have, we will always hire aboriginal folks to help us out as much as possible. They provide a needed component to everything that we do and we really can’t operate without them – and we really wouldn’t want to either.”

This commitment to inclusion also means keeping the local population fully informed of what is going on. “Like many places in Canada and the States, we are starting to see a tremendous amount of upheaval by environmentalists and First Nations groups, and it is very critical that those groups stay involved in what you are doing, that they know what you are doing so that they are not surprised or shocked,” Mr. Vivian says. “And I think we do a very good job with that.”

Aurora Geosciences is also committed to educating the public about the mining industry in general. The goal is to help people understand that many of the negative assumptions about mining are incorrect. “The biggest negative concept about mining and exploration is that it is an archaic industry – and it is not an archaic industry,” Mr. Vivian insists. “The environmental regulations have changed so much in the last 15 or 20 years that it is really impossible to put anything into production nowadays without making sure that all of your I’s are dotted and your T’s are crossed.” In fact, a massive amount of a project’s budget is wholly devoted to safety and the environment. “The environmental and safety regulations probably take up 30 percent to 40 percent of the cost of putting a project into production. So I would say people are very aware of the environmental and social responsibilities that come with bringing a project to fruition.”

Aurora Geosciences is actually involved in producing a TV documentary that explores the current landscape of mining and exploration, and the public’s opinion of it. One of the key messages is how incredibly important the mining industry is to today’s technology-crazed society. Most people simply do not realize where the materials for their smart phones and other beloved gadgets come from, Mr. Vivian explains. “I don’t think a lot of people understand how much of the technology they use nowadays actually comes from mining. Rare earth, lithium batteries, it all comes from mining.”

These mined rare earths are essential to every cell phone, from the glass display, to the vibrating motors, to the magnets in the headsets. Even alternative energy technologies are dependent on rare earths, which are found in solar cells, wind turbines, and electric cars. For instance, every hybrid Toyota Prius requires almost 20 pounds of rare earths in its battery alone, PBS.org reports.

Obviously, these rare earths do not magically appear in cell phones and hybrid cars. “[Materials] that are used in technology don’t just show up,” Mr. Vivian points out. “You can’t just go ‘poof’ here it is.”

With demand for rare earths at an all-time high, mining isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “People always like to say that mining is only okay as long as it is done in somebody else’s backyard, but the bottom line is that it is probably going to be done in your backyard because it is such a huge requirement for the technology industry nowadays,” Mr. Vivian explains. “So we are trying to show that it is a very clean, relatively safe industry.” There have certainly been disasters, he admits, but he then goes on to point out that these catastrophes are often “engineering related” rather than indicative of mining itself. “We want to explain to people how environmentally safe mining is, and that the production that comes from mining is something that most people use in their everyday life.”

As one of the few companies able to provide geological and geophysical services throughout the North, Aurora Geosciences is uniquely positioned to support the mining industry – and to educate the public. Furthermore, with large deposits becoming increasingly difficult to find, the team is in more demand than ever. Those coveted materials are out there somewhere, and Aurora Geosciences is eager to mark the spot.

December 14, 2017, 9:58 AM EST