Wednesday, May 16, 2018
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The development of the Falcon airborne gravity gradiometer system by BHP took place over an almost decade long period, from 1990 to 1999, when the technology entered into commercial utilization. The author was involved with this effort over the full period and saw the concept develop from a ‘technical possibility’ into functioning survey system, which arguably was the most complex technology ever designed and built for minerals exploration.
The technical challenges were huge but BHP had exceptional technical resources in a diverse set of disciplines based in a number of research facilities around Australia, at the time, the largest commercial R&D group in the country. The commercial aspects of the program were however, likely even more challenging as the project was ‘born’ at a time that there was enormous pressure developing inside BHP to expand the profits of the company in a very short time frame; a real 15% growth per annum was defined as the corporate goal in the mid-1990s. This resulted in many often-conflicting strategies which in the end, resulted in an internal rupturing of the company in the late 1990s, with the resulting huge financial write-offs, the departure of many senior managers and executives and a fundamental change how the organization handled risk. The Falcon program persisted through this turbulent period however was utilized in BHP’s exploration programs until late 2007 when the technology was sold to Fugro Airborne Surveys (now CGG).
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... Read More