Oxford University Students on the Comstock
Interview by Julie Draksler
What does Oxford University have in common with the Comstock? Other than the Comstock’s own Mark Twain receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford in 1907. The Comstock recently became the destination for three of Oxford’s bright and motivated 3rd year geology students. Benjamin Conibear (Ben), James Samuel Hirst (Sam) and Charles Miller (Charlie) were tasked with completing a mapping project as part of their geology curriculum as required for graduation. They could have opted to accept the same European areas that students before them typically go, even though their predecessors have mapped those areas repeatedly. Instead, they made their way to Nevada’s robust Comstock Lode.
Well, here is the connection – Ben Conibear’s father, Andy Conibear, lives and works near the Comstock, in Carson City, Nevada. He conversed with his friend, Geologist and Professional Engineer, Dennis Anderson, a consultant at Comstock Mining Inc. (the Company) about the possibility of a geologic study project in the historic Comstock Mining District that would meet Oxford's required geologic mapping unit for graduation. Mr. Anderson reached out to Larry Martin, Comstock’s V.P. of Exploration and Mine Development and discussed the basic concepts of the graduation requirement and if the Company would be interested in the program. Mr. Martin thought it would be an excellent opportunity for the Company and to utilize the Oxford's students to map specific portions of the Company’s over 6,000 acres of land. A mapping proposal was presented via Ben Conibear to geology professors that are committee members over graduation requirements for Oxford University. The Company welcomed the finalized Oxford requirements for the geologic mapping campaign and the mine agreed to reimburse expenses, provided the students mapped specific regions selected within Comstock's land holdings including but not limited to the historic Occidental, Dayton and Oest Mine locations.
Conibear, Hirst and Miller had expressed their excitement to Mr. Martin during the final planning of the mapping project. Prior to traveling to the Comstock and further detailed discussions with Mr. Martin, the students realized that this was a rare opportunity to map and participate in the evaluation of exploration targets in an area hosting geologically complex ore deposit targets within a historically world renowned precious metal mining district. Once the students had the approval and confirmation from their Oxford professors for their project and mapping task, they began to review their collegiate knowledge of igneous and metamorphic rocks. This included reading geologic publications focused upon volcanic systems located in the western United States to give them a cursory baseline for their project. After the paperwork, logistics completed and visa in hand, the students arrived on the Comstock in mid-June.
Oxford University geology students (Photo by Bill Mitchell, July 2012)Sam Hirst, Ben Conibear, and Charlie Miller above the Comstock's Gold Canyon.
One of the Company's geologists, Ken Coleman, was the team’s Field Coordinator and is a seasoned geologic field mapper, currently completing his degree in geology at the University of Nevada, Reno. The Oxford mapping team and Ken Coleman were under the direction of Larry Martin, a 35-year mining industry veteran, Certified Professional Geologist and a graduate of Colorado School of Mines. Jason Merchent, UNR graduate, is the Company's GIS specialist and provided base map support.
Field Coordinator Coleman explained the mapping process begins by determining the mapping goal and land area target. Mapping can be for general geology or more detailed to determine alteration and mineralization patterns. Once the goal is set, a series of traverses are done across the project area. Rock types, structure or fracture patterns, alteration and mineralization are determined at each location along the traverse. Observations are then plotted on the field map, and large-scale geological relationships become more apparent. Where warranted, rock chip samples are taken of mineralized outcrops to determine gold and silver content.
Conibear had visited the area prior to the mapping proposal with his father, however Hirst and Miller knew only of the basin and range tectonics of Nevada and they learned of the enormous historic wealth that makes the Comstock so unique. Hirst remarked on the Occidental area of the Comstock, “It is quite complex. We mapped it with a higher scale than generally is required by Oxford and it was a good project.”
What makes mapping here so complex? Hirst claims, “Many students do their projects in Europe which may be faster and easier because the (geologic) variations are more gradual. Variations on the Comstock are more subtle.” This requires more study and high level of detail on the map.
Miller added that European geology contains mostly metamorphic and intrusive rocks as opposed to the Comstock’s combination of volcanic flows and domal features, intrusive igneous rocks and metamorphic rocks. They all agreed that the Comstock holds a very unique geologic environment for them and is unequaled in northern Europe.
It was a fascinating project or the students and they were very appreciative for the opportunity. Larry Martin stated, "The Company was extremely satisfied with the students’ geologic mapping as it matched very well with the Company's prior mapping that was conducted over the past few years by Comstock Mining staff geologists. The Oxford team did identify several structures (faults) that will be further studied. The students were initially shown some of the previous geologic maps to illustrate the detail and quality that the Company expected from the students. The Oxford team was not privy to the Company's prior geologic information for the areas mapped." Mr. Martin added, "This was a means for the Company to evaluate the students’ observations. The quality of mapping and professionalism of the Oxford team was exemplary."
Oxford students discussing their mapping project on the Comstock
Did anything surprise them about the Comstock? Conibear remarked on the mountainous terrain and the elevation here. Miller was surprised at how easy it was to feel at home, with the mine geology team’s support and the welcome atmosphere of the Company’s entire team. They all agreed it was a fantastic project and believe their professor will be pleased with novelty of mapping a portion of such profound geology, in a completely different area of the world.
Although the project kept them very busy, the students were able to take short trips, enjoying Virginia City and Lake Tahoe and observing Slide Mountain. They were also able to witness Comstock Mining’s first material fragmentation and start of actual mine production.
Hirst and Miller come from the London area and Conibear comes from an area in the Southern U.K. known for ancient tin mining. While mining is still a great career industry in the U.K, professionals travel out of the U.K. more often, to gain practical experience in mining projects around the world.
Corrado De Gasperis, President and CEO of Comstock Mining, was very pleased with the Oxford team’s work. “Our geology team reported these gentlemen did a fine job on their mapping task and showed us some interesting features in the Occidental area. We hope Ben, Sam, and Charlie come back to the Comstock when gold and silver production is fully operational.”
Corrado De Gasperis
President and CEO
Statements contained in this blog, which are not historical facts, including statements about plans, goals and expectations regarding businesses and opportunities, new or existing business strategies, capital resources and future financial results are "forward looking" as contemplated by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Such forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties, including, but not limited to, changes in government regulation, generally accepted accounting principles, taxation, competition, general economic conditions and geopolitical conditions. Accordingly, actual results may differ materially from those projected or implied in the forward-looking statements.