KEGS Ottawa May Meeting


Quest for the Holy Grail; BHP's Geophysical Research Program 1985-2005


Ken Witherly
Condor Consulting 

Wednesday, May 10th 

Gamble Hall
615 Booth Street



Over the period from 1985 to 2005, BHP Minerals carried out three major geophysical research projects that were intended to significantly enhance the ability to find new ore deposits. This involved major activities internally as well as external components that involved complex multi-year programs involving the large expenditure of funds. In all cases, major efforts were made to deploy the outcomes in BHP’s exploration programs. While the technologies developed could be considered as successful in having met or exceeded the original development goals, in no case did the outcomes of these efforts contribute materially to the discovery of significant new mineral resources. This suggests that the technical objectives for a new technology can be comparatively straight forward to define but the subsequent implementation path once the technological goals are achieved, were poorly conceived.

BHP’s experience is much like the exploration industry as a whole over the same period. While much appears to have been developed which has added significantly to the technical capabilities of the industry, it has been less apparent that these developments have been able to contribute significantly to an improved discovery record. Considerable effort is now being directed towards bringing new geophysical technologies on in programs such as Uncover in Australia and CMIC’s Footprint in Canada. Past experience suggests however, that better technology alone can’t be expected to achieve the sought after goal of improved discovery success.



Ken Witherly graduated from UBC (Vancouver Canada) with a BSc in geophysics and physics in 1971. He then spent 27 years with the Utah/BHP Minerals company during which time as Chief Geophysicist, he championed BHP’s programs in airborne geophysics which resulted in the development of the MegaTEM and Falcon technologies. In 1999, Ken helped form a technology-focused service company that specializes in the application of innovative processing and data analysis to help drive the discovery of new mineral deposits.