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Fred Davidson: Mining with minimal intrusion

Fred Davidson, president and CEO of Energold Drilling Corp.

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Having seen the often-ruinous effect that mining can have on communities and countryside across the world, Energold Drilling Corp. president and chief executive officer Fred Davidson set out to minimize the impact of his company's work, particularly in Third World countries.

While most of the mining industry continued to think big, Mr. Davidson also began to think small, and his portable drill – with a rig platform measuring just 16 square metres – allowed Vancouver-based Energold to go into areas never previously accessible to regular-sized equipment.

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"Over the last 15 years, in conjunction with a bunch of people, we've developed it to the point where it's the new standard in the industry," the 56-year-old explains, "and the whole concept was threefold."

Firstly, the relative light weight of the drill – the heaviest part is 180 kilograms – allows the rig to be transported into sites on mules, canoes or helicopter, avoiding the need to tear countryside up to build roads and the resultant scars that often tarnish a landscape.

Mr. Davidson also believes in involving the local community – of a 15-man crew, only one or two are brought in from outside the community. Thirdly, because of the simplicity of his rigs, the whole thing is relatively inexpensive.

"Exploration is a very unsuccessful business," he explains. "About one out of about every 10,000 prospects ever make a mine, so it's not very often that these small communities ever enjoy any benefit at all; they'd just watch the Cat [Caterpillar mining equipment] go by with a bunch of gringos, and they'd just drill and disappear again.

"So this way involved the local community and they became participants in and it really becam e their project, which obviously for social issues was important."

Energold has about 90 of these innovative platforms in place at surface level around the globe, with another seven underground, of the 234 rigs in a total of 22 countries.

"The end result is that our clients get the seismic work they require, with minimal impact environmentally but with maximum social impact," he says. "It's the way the industry has to go, it's been a hard sell in the industry because traditionally bigger is better and faster is better."

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A recent drilling operation in Guatemala really brought home the social impact of mining for Mr. Davidson. The Mayan tradition in the region dictates that the human race originates from underground, and the local communities were becoming angry that the drill holes Energold was leaving in the landscape were allowing spirits to escape.

"We had to figure out how to reassure the local community that the spirits weren't coming out," he says. "Obviously the way to do that is after drilling the hole you make a conscious effort to plug the hole with cement and putting a mounter on it so they weren't getting out."

But while Energold is currently riding high – it acquired Britain's Dando Drilling Corp. three years ago and currently works with Dando's engineers to create new drilling rig designs – Mr. Davidson also feels that innovation in the mining field must also be accompanied by a social conscience.

"We have to innovate, we have to develop, we have to make ourselves better than we are," he says. "We need commodities, but society won't tolerate abuse of those commodities."

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