A key part of the Qualified Person’s (QP’s) review of mineral properties under National Instrument 43-101 (NI 43-101) is the site visit. Indeed, it is usually the site visit that allows a QP to acquire the key data, information and knowledge about a mineral project which is then reviewed in order both to form an opinion regarding the relevance and quality of the data and also to develop recommendations on how best to proceed with further work at the site.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only put social distancing from colleagues, friends and family in place throughout the world but it has also stopped travel for site visits to mineral properties dead in its tracks, as companies find their mineral properties are behind closed borders or subject to government restrictions within their own countries.
These restrictions have also played havoc with the securities regulators, as the requirement for at least one QP to have conducted a current personal inspection of the property is one of the underlying pillars of compliant Technical Reports. This is because the QP must physically confirm the extent of the mineralization and that the work being reported was actually carried out on the property.
Part 6 of NI 43-101, “Preparation of Technical Report”, discusses the requirement for a site visit and states the following:
Current Personal Inspection 6.2
(1) Before an issuer files a technical report, the issuer must have at least one qualified person who is responsible for preparing or supervising the preparation of all or part of the technical report complete a current inspection on the property that is the subject of the technical report.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to an issuer provided that
(a) the property that is the subject of the technical report is an early stage exploration property;
(b) seasonal weather conditions prevent a qualified person from accessing any part of the property or obtaining beneficial information from it; and
(c) the issuer discloses in the technical report, and in the disclosure that the technical report supports, that a personal inspection by a qualified person was not conducted, the reasons why, and the intended time frame to complete the personal inspection.
(3) If an issuer relies on subsection (2), the issuer must
(a) as soon as practical, have at least one qualified person who is responsible for preparing or supervising the preparation of all or part of the technical report complete a current inspection on the property that is the subject of the technical report; and
(b) promptly file a technical report and the certificates and consents required under Part 8 of this Instrument.
While Micon recognizes that a site visit cannot be conducted during the pandemic due to the travel restrictions imposed by most nations or the outright ban on foreigners entering some nations, technology is available that can assist in advancing the independent QP’s work on projects, such as:
- the QP can attend virtual meetings with clients using various internet call services such as Skype, Teams, or Zoom, which in some cases also allow for the sharing of files or data on screen.
- the client can set up a video camera such that one could view the drilling live-streamed in real time on phones or other devices. The client can also sent video files showing the core logging, sampling and core cutting procedures being undertaken, with time and date stamps. This will allow the QP to comment on an exploration drilling program that is in progress. Drone footage can also allow the QP to visualize the extent of the program, the locations of the various drill sites, geological outcrops, roads and other features on the site.
- the use of cloud data on sites like SharePoint, Dropbox and others allow for the sharing of files which can be used to transfer data in order for preparation of the Technical Report to begin prior to a site visit
Indeed, the use of visual communications technology has become part of today’s way of conducting business for a number of QP’s.
While the above points may assist the QP in conducting his or her work, Micon recognizes that these in no way replace the need for conducting a site visit to a project in person. However, they are useful tools to assist QPs with their review of a project if they cannot visit the site during the exploration campaign, due to weather, pandemics, civil unrest or other issues. In any case, a QP should use all tools at his or her disposal to verify the details outlined by the client for a mineral property.
In the end, though, once safe to do so, QPs must still conduct a physical site visit as soon as practical, to confirm site specific details, in order for their Technical Report to be compliant.