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With 50 years in the drilling business, expert weighs in on Philippine mining
By Maria Paula Tolentino
“My story in the drilling business started when I was just 16 years old and to this day, I have never regretted a second of it.” – Alan Blackley, Quest Exploration Drilling (QED)
Now that a gruelling chapter for the industry has closed post-Lopez, what’s next for foreign companies working in the Philippine mining industry? Expert driller and QED Managing Director, Alan Blackley looks back on his humble beginnings and to where he is now in an industry he has grown to love.
“Back then in Queensland Australia, young men had a lot of opportunity. My parents were not financially well off and couldn’t send me to boarding school, however on the other hand, I was given the opportunity to work and contribute.
“One of my options was an offer of an apprenticeship at what is now called Qantas, and they were paying $14/week versus another opportunity on a drilling rig where they offered $44/week. You could just imagine the decision I had to make – all in about 4 seconds! Obviously, I took the drilling job.”
“A couple of years later, I joined an American company that was drilling in Australia and they offered me an opportunity to work in Papua New Guinea. Back in those days, they were willing to pay me a considerable amount of money to go to PNG, so off I went.
“I was just 18. I went there on a 6-month contract and stayed for 28 years! You can say, I have basically stayed in the same company for the past 50 years where I earned a ‘PhD’ in the science of drilling while graduating ‘with honors’ as well.”
PRJ: You’ve established yourself abroad, and worked with multinational companies here as well. Comparisons?
ADB: “As everybody knows, the industry is in the doldrums and I have to say that the current administration is not supporting the mining industry in the Philippines. The string of activities the previous secretary (Lopez) did proved very distressing to the mining industry.
“She was not a secretary but an activist. Putting that aside, I believe significant damage has been done to the reputation of the Philippines internationally, and it will be very difficult to attract foreign investment.
“The only mining that you will see here are going to be homegrown companies, and perhaps that’s what the Philippines wants, but for these companies to succeed they must abide by the President’s announcement to adhere to Australian and Canadian mining standards.
“Our two major clients here in the Philippines are Canadian and Australian companies, and they have exceptional environmental standards, so in theory they will continue to operate. In effect, I see the business here in the Philippines stagnating and without our current clients we would have to close the doors.”
PRJ: Business will be moved elsewhere, together with the country’s professionals.
ADB: “These days many mining companies have improved their financial positions and are out there looking for new projects. They are looking for countries that are welcoming and have sound, solid mining laws.
“For them, the stability of contracts and abiding by the rule of law precedes everything else. If you look at the Philippines, being able to do business here with some certainty is just not there. Which goes back to what I was initially saying about the damage being done to the country’s reputation.
“A real chance to operate, a new beginning for the mining industry, and being given the chance to have the role of a professional, is gone.
“Miners are professional men and women. These engineers, geologists, metallurgists, etc. will seek employment overseas. They are not going to stay in the Philippines. Can you blame them?
“For miners previously employed by companies here, particularly the low skilled workers, their standard of living and income will drop dramatically. It’s a domino effect.
“The concern of where will they be sending their kids to school, health centers, all of these are financed by mining companies. What’s going to happen to all of these concerns?”
PRJ: Where are you redirecting your gaze now?
ADB: “The Kyrgyz Republic. It’s a lovely place and has a long mining history. Gold being the primary export commodity of the country (40%), the people are welcoming of mining and the country has a very strong mining law with good and reasonable expectations.
“Our business in Papua New Guinea is growing comfortably and last year eclipsed the Philippines in revenue generation.
“In terms of exploration projects, Ecuador is picking up nicely. Ecuador in South America gives you an idea on how far we are looking for in projects.
“A recent bid we submitted there may have been unsuccessful but it is interesting to observe there are projects happening around many parts of the globe. Just not here in the Philippines which is always being touted as the 5th most prospective country in the world?”
PRJ: Any gains for QED during this phase of the Industry?
ADB: “We recently invested in a start of the art, computer-controlled drill rig for underground drilling. I am pleased to say that the machine is performing well within specifications with production improving remarkably. I am extremely pleased with this project.
“In terms of forecast, I see a lot of interest brewing for copper. Gold will still be there for sure. The logic behind this is that mining companies have not invested in new development particularly for copper for the past 4-5 years.
“I understand that by 2020, there will be a worldwide shortage of copper and gold supply. The miners are finally picking up on this need and thanks to the improvement of the world economy, are doing something about finding replacement reserves.
“What will happen is that there’s going to be a lot more investment in mining development and exploration.
“My expectation for QED is for us to take advantage of this opportunity. We need to be anywhere except the Philippines!
“We have zero confidence that there will be any new investment in the country. Though the Philippines is our home, the country being a great source of skilled labor and most of our equipment based here – we must be realistic.
“Until this country is serious in developing its resources industry backed up by solid and certain laws, or until perhaps we wait yet again for the next administration to help push that, then maybe there will a decent business environment here again. This country will not be part of renewed activity in mining exploration, that much is certain.
Mr. Blackley was the guest speaker at the Philippine Mining Luncheon on June 9 at the Manila Polo Club. The focus of his talk was on his more than 45 years of experience in exploration. A must-attend event for industry professionals looking to get insight on the international scene of mining, Blackley is the best resource person to provide a realistic pulse of the mining industry. Make sure to register for future Mining Luncheon events organized by the Philippine Mining Club at firstname.lastname@example.org.