Yukon prospectors aim to take new technology to the world

Shawn Ryan and a group of Yukon prospectors are aiming to do more than just survive the downturn in the mining industry. They want to make Yukon a centre for mineral exploration excellence.

'This is a made-in-the-Yukon technology that's ready to export worldwide,' says Shawn Ryan

A group of Yukon prospectors is aiming to do more than just survive the downturn in the mining industry. The prospectors want to make the territory a centre for mineral exploration excellence.

Shawn Ryan, president of RyanWood Exploration, is known worldwide within the mineral exploration industry for adapting technology to improve prospecting. He uses drones, software and other gear to find hidden mineral deposits without using a large amount of heavy equipment. 

"This is a made-in-the-Yukon technology that's ready to export worldwide," Ryan says.

Another company, GroundTruth Exploration, owned by Ryan's wife Cathy Wood and business associates Isaac Fage and Tao Henderson, does much of the actual field work.

Together they say they've reduced work that used to take 18 months to about two or three weeks, and the cost has been reduced to about a fifth of what it was.

Fage says the exploration industry had to evolve in Yukon.

"That's the challenge that we've taken on is bringing more efficient low impact surveys to the industry to improve exploration success, but also reduce the environmental impact and the cost for the exploration companies."

Spending up, but activity down

Their new ways of doing things coincided with a slump in mining investment and heightened awareness of the impact resource development has on the environment.

Ryan says the improvements helped the two companies stay busy this year while others suffered.

The Yukon government says estimated exploration spending actually increased by $35 million to $80 million in 2014 over 2013, but Ryan says most of that money was spent by a few companies with proven deposits.

"As some people say, we've probably never seen it this bad ever, in our exploration business, we're that low.”

He says grassroots exploration companies have been driven out of business or were kept alive in part by government financial incentives.

"Most of our competitors that are in the business had two or three people going, and they only had sporadic work this summer,” he says. “We know a lot of guys with 25 to 30 years experience, they never worked all summer.” 

Drone videos a hit

The companies have continued to improve their results from two drones they operate. The drones take photographs of the landscape they're flying over and then the images can be used to make videos.

GroundTruth's Henderson says the videos are an excellent marketing tool, and a major perk. 

“We sit in the Tombstones and fly for a day,” he says. "I love what I do and I'm always testing myself you know, being able to get ahead and try new things, it's really proving to be an adventure. It's a hell of a time, we're having a lot of fun.”

Ryan had some fun too.

He was the subject of a flattering profile on the American news magazine television program, 60 Minutes. While the news crew was filming Ryan and the others at work a bear happened upon them providing a great deal of drama and excitement.

"We got a lot of reality shows calling,” Ryan says. “That was just so fluke that that happened.”

Targeting Yukon College

Ryan also went with his family into the bush to pick morel mushrooms this year — something he and Wood relied on for their livelihood when they were younger. Ryan says it was the hunt for the morels that eventually led them into prospecting.

Ryan and his associates have even bigger dreams now.

He's hoping to strike up a relationship with Yukon College to provide top notch training in his prospecting techniques.

"We take great pride in the detail and some of these great breakthroughs that we've done. It's actually amazing to watch this stuff work in the bush, and the speed," he says. "From the environmental point of view to the cost effective." 

Ryan says the newly trained prospectors — or “commandos,” as he calls them — could be sent to work across Canada or international destinations like Mexico, Turkey and Africa.