Lawrence Gochioco in ABS-CBN’s Future Perfect: Geophysics of mining exploration and the proposed Ateneo School of Earth Sciences

Lawrence Gochioco of Geo-Nano Technology

Lawrence Gochioco of Geo-Nano Technology

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Last August 22, 2012, Ateneo Physics alumni Lawrence Gochioco (BS Ps ’78), President of the Geo-Nano Technology based in Houston, Texas, was interviewed by Tony Velasquez of ABS-CBN’s Future Perfect regarding the geophysics of mining exploration, the proposed Ateneo School for Earth Sciences, the geopolitics of the Spratly Islands, and other mining prospects in the country. Below is an edited transcript of the 20-minute interview (click on the picture above to see the video in ABS-CBN’s website):

A. INTRODUCTION

TONY VELASQUEZ:
And coming up Fil-Am geophysicist Lawrence Gochioco of Global Energy and Environment Solutions company based on Houston, Texas, to discuss their geophysics services to address environmental issues. Keep it here on Future Perfect: Tech Shorts.

Welcome back to Future Perfect. Tech Shorts. Our guest tonight is Fil-Am Geophysicist Lawrence Gochioco. He is the President of Geo-Nano Technology Company. His company currently specializes in providing near surface geophysics services–he’ll get to explain that later–to address environmental, engineering, mining, energy, and national security issues among others. So thank you very much Lawrence for coming over.

LAWRENCE GOCHIOCO:
Well thank you, Tony, for having me here.

TONY:
Do you fly in-and-out of Philippines frequently?

LAWRENCE:
Yes. In fact for the last 3 or 5 years, I have been coming here 3 or 4 times.

TONY:
And that is basically to do what?

LAWRENCE:
Hopefully, I can do consulting work and at the same time, of course, visit my mother who is based here.

TONY:
Ok, that is the more important one.

LAWRENCE:
That is the more important.

B. GEOPHYSICS OF OIL AND MINERAL EXPLORATION

TONY:
Mom… alright. As a geophysicist, what disciplines do you have to apply to your craft. You have physics of course.

LAWRENCE:
Yes.

TONY:
And a knowledge of geology?

LAWRENCE:
Yes.

TONY:
How do the two come into play?

LAWRENCE
Well, what happened is that basically geophysics is the field where you apply the laws of physics that you could probe into the subsurface, the earth, and to look for mineral deposits or any anomalies below the ground from near surface like engineering—the pipelines, if there is break in the pipe, or there is subsidence or sink holes

TONY:
So that is what it means—near surface.

LAWRENCE:
Very shallow depths. Then you could use use the same technology where you could probe deeper like for mineral deposits down to about 500 meters, 2,000 meters. Then if you want to look for oil exploration, which are deeper like more than 10,000 meters, then you have to use heavier equipment, larger arrays of geophones. For land or offshore, you use boats with airguns.

5:08

TONY:
Now, do we have that kind of expertise here in Philippines? I mean exploration. How do you call it? Deep seismic exploration.

LAWRENCE

To my knowledge the capability we have in this country is very limited. Many of the geophysicists in this country do not have adequate training like in the international field. And there is a big gap there. And that is the reason why I am hoping I can come here and provide some kind of training. And just like to the Ateneo and to try convince Fr. Jett Villarin that we need to start boosting Earth Sciences program here.

TONY:
And that is what you are actually here for, right?

LAWRENCE:
Yes.

C. PROPOSED ATENEO SCHOOL OF EARTH SCIENCES

TONY:
I mean you recently have opened a new college in Ateneo.

LAWRENCE:
No, not yet. It is still being proposed. The School of Earth Sciences, right. And it will take a few more years to build that up. But I am very active. My corporate headquarters is based on Houston, Texas, but I expanded my operations to Mongolia and they are engaged in mineral exploration in terms of let’s say coal, gold, iron ore, and so forth. I started also doing oil exploration services. I have a company that can do 2D or 3D seismic work.

TONY:
Now, why would a School of Earth Sciences be that important for the Philippines.

LAWRENCE:
For one thing, there’s a lot of challenges. Actually when you think about it, the Philippines is an ideal country. It is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire. So all the volcanisms, typhoons, rich mineral deposits and so forth will require remote sensing technologies to do a lot of mapping. We want to do things the intelligent way. So one way to minimize environmental impact. Just imagine, if you are looking for mineral deposits and a lot of mining companies they just do drilling. They just probe a lot of holes in the ground. And when you find a drilling location, you have to bulldoze, clear path, so it has a major impact on environment. But with geophysics, you can do like a CAT scan imaging of the earth. You can come up with 2D or 3D images though you know where the sweet spot are. And you can do a more intelligent and more cost effective way of doing exploration.

07:00

TONY:
Actually, I had read an article. This is just an interesting sidelight, nothing to do with looking for mineral resources, but mostly looking for old grave sites. They actually tap your expertise and your equipment to help them locate old gave sites without having to necessarily to excavate everything. This is imaging, right?

LAWRENCE:
Yes, some of these technology we call them non-invasive remote sensing technology. Yes, I have done some surveys for some government agencies looking for archaeological sites.

TONY:
Have they asked you to look for the Yamashita gold?

LAWRENCE:
Well, if you know a good site, we can go there and investigate, why not?

TONY:
Yes, if that doesn’t turn out to be a myth. (laugh)

Now Earth sciences, yes, very timely, especially with what we have experienced in these past several weeks: monsoon rains, horrific calamity, and everybody suffers you know from the same kind of rainfall that we had from Ondoy. And nobody seems to know whether we can predict that kind of calamity again. In the study of Earth Sciences, does that actually help–a better forecasting capability as well?

8:31

LAWRENCE:
Yes, it will help because like anything else, you need to have baseline. You need to conduct some preliminary studies to record some data of information. In case that when subsequent events occur, then you could see what is going on. For example, in the area that we know is high-prone to landslides, so what we can do is to instrument that area with geophysical instruments. Then we could have that data collected and recorded in real time and have that information logged. If there is any ground movement, it could set up an alarm.

TONY:
I am actually curious Lawrence because even though the Philippine government has for several years now have been very conscientious about mapping so-called geohazard sites– mind geosciences locally, they have tried to accurately identify these geohazardous sites. But do you think they haven’t been able to accurately identify these areas, because they don’t have the kind of equipment or technology that you are talking about?

LAWRENCE:
You not only need the equipment. You need to have the right skilled professionals who know how to use it and interpret. Okay. We have the same problem even in the US where as I mentioned to you earlier that we have a lot of geoscientists—whether geophysicists, geologists—they spend too much time in the computer room. And they do a lot of simulations and computer modeling and so forth. You cannot find oil or coal sitting in your computer lab just playing with the computers. Okay. You need to get out there in the field.

TONY:
Get your hands dirty.

LAWRENCE:
Get hand dirty and gain a lot of experience. And put hair on your chest.

10:03

TONY:
Nobody wants to put hair in their chest anymore. They want to wax themselves!

But when you think about it, in this country there are a lot of mineral resources that companies are interested in locating, exploiting, and all that. And the kind of debate that we have about mining and the destructive processes that it usually entails, the kind of technology that you are talking about–imaging. Does that actually do away with some of the destructive clearing up the land and excavation and all that.

LAWRENCE:
That technology can be used to addressed that. As I said, for example, we have an area that has not been been mined yet. Right. Let me cite a US side. The United States has one of the toughest environmental mining laws. Okay. And yet a lot of companies are doing business, making good profit. Okay.

TONY:
And abiding by the laws.

LAWRENCE:
Abiding by the laws, enforcement. Right. That is the key. Okay. On the upstream side, you have to employ technologies to lower your operating costs or capex costs. So when you find a good sweet spot. For example, you have a big mine and to start to operate the mine, you need to find the sweet spot where you have highest concentration of gold, coal, ore. To get the company started, you need to find the sweet spot and put your plant in there the mine, the shaft, and so forth. Like that.

11:36

TONY:
You need the kind of exploration technology that would have minimal impact on the environment, the ecology.

LAWRENCE:
Right and the only way to have minimal impact is to employ innovative, advanced geophysical technologies, whether it is electromagnetic, EIM, IP, or seismic.

TONY:
That is the something the proposed School of Earth Sciences should be able introduce. Right.

LAWRENCE:
Well, yes. Fr. Jett Villarin and I were close friends. We were both physics majors in college. We discussed about this for the last ten years. Finally, the timing is right.

12:15

D. GEOPOLITICS AND GEOPHYSICS OF THE SPRATLY ISLANDS

TONY:
And hopefully so. Talking about timing and another topic that is so hot geopolitically not just geophysically. Geopolitically, we are talking about the Spratlys. The object of desire obviously is the untapped resources there whether it be mineral or aquatic. Your proposal is you said why should everybody get stuck squabbling over this area when everybody could just cooperate and utilize the resources.

12:39

LAWRENCE:
Right, as a third person sitting in Houston, Texas, when I read the articles on what is going on in the South China Sea. I am bewildered. You see most new frontier exploration are usually joint ventures between countries or big national companies or independents and so forth.

TONY:
New frontiers. Is it usually joint?

LAWRENCE:
To leverage the risk. Usually the risk in new frontiers is very high. So they share the risk. They bring in a lot of partners involved to explore this area. But I don’t know the details what went on before this thing happened. The years before what kind of contracts, negotiations between governments or corporations. But I just find it fascinating that is this case, no one wins.

TONY:
If they go on it by themselves.

12:25

LAWRENCE:
Or they go argue. Because everybody needs oil, especially China. The reason why I mention about China. Again, I have been in the oil industry for 30 years in the US. And I have seen that there is nothing to gain especially in situations like this. And given that China that has much greater demand. They are consuming about 8.2 million barrels of oil a day. Okay. Then you compare that–of course, the US is the largest consumer of oil. And China imports 56 percent of their daily requirements in oil. So it comes down to about 4.6 million barrels of oil per day. Compared to the Philippines, the Philippines is only 338,000 barrels of oil. So the Philippine consumption of oil is only 7.3 percent. China has more to gain if they learn how to cooperate in a joint venture like this or in anywhere.

TONY:
But I am actually wondering if they feel that the risk is acceptable to handle on their own. They even actually have their sea deep see oil rigs, I think, moved over to that part of area. To start drilling.

14:37

LAWRENCE:
Right, if they did that they are trying to probe the kind of lithology, geology, if they are good hydrocarbon source. Okay. But of course, we see how the Chinese reacted like SEANOC. A Philippine company has been trying to talk to SEANOC about joint ventures. Three weeks later they bought Canadian company, NEXXON, for 15.1 billion dollars. So all these acquisitions going on is one way for them to leverage the risks. It is cheaper to increase your reserves by buying other oil companies.

TONY:
So that’s how they are doing it.

LAWRENCE:
So that is how they are doing right now. Things could change.

TONY:
Now, given your expertise. You must be pretty curious about what is underneath the waters in that area.

LAWRENCE:
Absolutely

15:29

TONY:
It is virtually still unmapped in terms of just what could be underneath. Everybody is talking in theory. There must be potentially millions of barrels of oil. Whatever. (laugh) Or even that kind of mineral deposits. Is it that difficult to actually estimate what is underneath?

LAWRENCE:
Well in this particular situation, let us talk about the Recto bank. There is a lot of speculations or studies made by only two Norwegians geophysicists that they come up with over trillion cubic feet of gas. And that’s it.

TONY:
Not oil.

LAWRENCE:
Just gas only. But the problems you need to let other people look at it, too. Get a second opinion, third opinion. Because geophysics is an inexact science. It is not one plus one two. It could be in this range. So when you have something like two plus two, in geophysics it can be between three and five. In that range. You need to bring in other independent experts or consultants to look at it as well. Someone asked me, one prominent businessman asked me if I would invest in this prospecting.

TONY
We know who the prominent businessman is. Because he has already talked to the Chinese.

16:46

LAWRENCE:
Of course, not seeing the data, I said I can’t. Until I have seen the data myself or my staff and come up will all interpretations and analysis, then I’ll think about it. But right now, when you are trying to promote, there is a lot of hype that is going on. And from a third person sitting back in Houston, I say wow it is unbelievable.

TONY:
It is the most politically charged area in the Philippine Sea or we call it the South China sea.

LAWRENCE:
Right, right.

TONY:
It is not that easy to make all conflicting parties to agree.

LAWRENCE:
It is very complex, especially when the stakes are high. Remember I mentioned to some people here, it like Texas hold and poker game. They see their cards, they think they have the best hand. Everybody is holding. But the longer it plays out, nobody wins.

17:47

E. OTHER MINING PROSPECTS IN THE COUNTRY

TONY:
Now, aside from just looking at potential mineral resources or gas deposits in the Recto bank or somewhere else in the Spratlys. Where else do you think we thing should be looking at here in the Philippines or have we tapped mostly everything now–overtapped maybe.

LAWRENCE:
Well, to be honest with you, I think the Philippines is largely still under-explored. There are some areas.

TONY:
Really? Dont tell that to the folks of Palawan.

LAWRENCE:
No, no. I am talking about other parts of the country.

TONY:
Because they don’t want mining there.

18:14
LAWRENCE:
But one area that I read a positive news is Benham Rise. The United Nations has issued a press that it belongs to the Philippines. So without any potential conflict, that is a nice area to explore, to look into. And there are other parts of the country that I felt is not fully explored yet.

TONY:
And the kind of mining technology that the local companies here that we have here could use some kind of updating as well. Dow we have imaging at all, 2D or 3D.

LAWRENCE:
No.

TONY:
Just mostly drill and bring core samples and evaluate.

19:09

LAWRENCE:
And make a big guess on between the drill holes. Usually the drill holes are like more than a kilometer apart depending on if they do a lot of inter drilling. Usually in exploration those holes are like 2 or 3 kilometers apart. Anything can happen in between. If you miss a target, oops. If you hit a good coal seam here then two kilometers later you hit another coal seam, geologists assume that the coal is uniformly thick across. But anything can happen in between.

TONY:
What about in Malampaya? Do we make more exploration there?

19:23

LAWRENCE:
Again, I can not make comments about it because I have not seen the data.

TONY:
But they actually tapped huge reserves, right? Natural gas.

LAWRENCE:
Right.

TONY:
Suppose to last 20 years. The natural gas in that area, is it highly likely that in some proximate area there could be more.

LAWRENCE:
Oh yes, of course.

F. BACK TO THE PROPOSED ATENEO SCHOOL FOR EARTH SCIENCES

TONY:
Pretty important. Just like the human body, we have to let the gas out now and then.

What is the time frame for the School of Earth Sciences anyway?

LAWRENCE:
Hopefully, three to five years.

TONY:
Ok, and that is because you need funding for it.

LAWRENCE:
I have to dig more coal and find more gold to fund it. That is why I am very active in Mongolia.

TONY:
You need to actually put the equipment that the students will be using in the field. The kind of imaging equipment that you employ. Imaging equipment.

LAWRENCE:
Not only set up the curriculum then to find the other Filipino expats that I know personally who are very good in geophysics as well that I can utilize for this university.

20:39

TONY:
Much like a brain drain of trained geophysicists. Right. Most of you guys relocated abroad.

LAWRENCE
Unfortunately, we have to, because there are no opportunities here.

G. CONCLUSIONS

TONY:
I see. Ok. Before the tear drops from my eye, I just want to thank you Lawrence Gochioco for coming over and sharing with us your insights as well as your future plans. Good luck to that. For the School of Earth Sciences, I am sure the Philippines will really reap the benefits of having something like that.

LAWRENCE:
Absolutely.

TONY:
Looking forward to seeing the plans come to fruition.

LAWRENCE:
Thank you.

TONY:
Alright. And thank you for joining us. I am Tony Velasquez. You can join me again next week where we again examine the present and look ahead to the future perfect of Philippine Tech.

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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