Unearthing Unbiased Data

How Geoscience BC provides data to support responsible decisions through its studies of the province’s natural resources

A Geoscience BC consultant explains sampling-program methods to workshop participants from the Nazko First Nation.

Information is key, but decision-makers can often rely on biased or incorrect data. One nonprofit, however, has made it so that British Columbians can embrace resource development by providing credible information with strong communication. “That’s what we do,” says Robin Archdekin, president and CEO of Geoscience BC. The nonprofit operates under an important mandate: to attract and support mineral and oil and gas investment in the province by generating and distributing independent earth-science data in collaboration with First Nations communities and the resource sector.

Archdekin was appointed president and CEO of Geoscience BC in October 2013. The organization, which was founded in 2005, is currently working on a three-year project to map mineral resources throughout the province. Since the company’s founding, it has grown its revenue by 12 percent each year.

But one important fact makes Geoscience BC unique in North America: it’s totally independent. “We are able to provide trusted, unbiased earth-science information that anyone can use to make informed decisions,” Archdekin says. Those empowered by Geoscience BC’s information can contribute constructively to resource-development discussions, debates, and projects in a meaningful way.

The organization maps not only the ground beneath citizens’ feet but also mineral and water resources, and conducts additional research related to resource development in British Columbia. “We take the guesswork out of the situation,” Archdekin says. “If people don’t have data, they speculate—and not always in a positive way. Because we provide unbiased data, they no longer have to make important business or community decisions based on guesswork.” The responsive entrepreneurial group engages with First Nations people and others to listen to concerns. Archdekin and his teams then create research programs and projects to address those concerns.

This year marks Geoscience BC’s 10th anniversary. Since day one, the organization has focused on transparency and efficiency. Funding comes from British Columbia’s provincial government, the resource sector, and regional economic development groups. The nonprofit operates with an overhead of just 16 percent and makes its data available to the public at no charge.

“We take the guesswork out of the situation. If people don’t have data, they speculate—and not always in a positive way.”

Since joining Geoscience BC in 2013, Archdekin says he’s now working to solidify the organization’s reputation as a trusted partner that enables sound resource-development decisions in the province. “Some people want you to believe that you can have either resource development or a healthy environment, but I believe with the information Geoscience BC provides, you can have both,” he says.

At the start of each project, Geoscience BC engages key stakeholders face-to-face to hear their concerns. The group then brings those concerns to the relevant technical advisory committee (minerals, oil and gas, or geothermal), which evaluates and prioritizes these concerns in a project context. Its board of directors then examines what the committees put forward to approve and fund different programs before Geoscience BC delivers on each one, making all information public upon completion. Directors on the volunteer board include First Nations leaders and resource-sector representatives. Additional dedicated volunteers comprise Geoscience BC’s technical-advisory and project-steering committees.

One major project at Geoscience BC is TREK (Targeting Resources through Exploration and Knowledge), which focuses on the prospective and underexplored regions in central British Columbia. Geoscience BC, in partnership with the mineral-deposit research unit at the University of British Columbia, is mapping the region’s geology to highlight areas of interest it hopes will one day lead to mine development and jobs for British Columbians. On Northern Vancouver Island, similar work led to 24,000 hectares of mineral staking—the process where land is marked for claiming future rights. This is a leading example of how the organization attracts investment to the province.

Expanding Geoscience BC’s scope into the energy sector, other work covers natural gas development, for which Geoscience BC has sourced nondrinkable water for industry use, established surface and groundwater monitoring programs, and mapped the groundwater aquifers to establish a baseline and facilitate effective water management. This mapping is a necessary component to responsible natural gas development. In addition, the group leads a consortium that collects data about seismic activity associated with natural gas production. That information in turn supports the regulator in keeping the natural gas sector safe.

As Archdekin takes Geoscience BC into its second decade, he remains focused on attracting and supporting sound resource investment and development through science. Like in all other organizational projects, Archdekin is concerned about just one thing—credible results. “We put whatever we find out there,” he says. “We don’t pass judgment on whether the information is seen as good or bad. The public wants to know what’s really going on, and they trust Geoscience BC to give them the information they need.”