While traveling around mineral exploration/mining trade shows or participating in conference calls with new clients, I am often asked how I got into the business of being a mining consultant. It is generally assumed that mining must be in my family, as mining tends to be a generational business or one that gets into your blood and stays for a long time. Being a mining consultant certainly wasn’t one of the answers I ever gave in elementary school when asked about what I wanted to do when I grow up.
When I started this business with Crystal Burgess at the age of 24, it must have seemed peculiar that I’d have chosen to start a mining consulting business instead of going into software or app development like many of my entrepreneurial contemporaries. Perhaps it was an odd and potentially less-profitable choice to go into the mining industry, but the journey has been interesting. And even if mining wasn’t strong in my family’s blood before, it certainly is now.
So how did I become a mining consultant? The short answer is that it was a hobby that got out of hand. The longer (but still fairly condensed) answer begins back when I was a teenager, exploring abandoned mines and learning about their history, geology, and economics.
The Early Years and Mojave Underground
Growing up in the State of Utah, I was surrounded by the remnants of some of the greatest mining camps in the West. In my 1977 Chevy Nova, I could drive out and explore the old mines of the Tintic, Oquirrh, and Wasatch Front ranges – from Park City to Ophir I was hiking up along the ridges and into the canyons looking for holes to crawl into. While I initially explored alone, a very foolish thing to do, I eventually found friends that shared my passion for adventure and mining. We grouped and formed Mojave Underground in 2007.
Through Mojave Underground, we were able to share knowledge about abandoned mines and mining history as well as expand our skillsets for safely accessing vertical shafts and deteriorated workings. This platform also allowed us to share our findings with the public and participate in presentations, lectures, and volunteer for various mining history-related projects.
While taking as much time off as possible to work on Mojave Underground projects, I was working full time as the assistant manager of a meat department at a grocery store. My partner, Crystal Burgess, was working as a licensed massage therapist. We were overall happy with the work but naturally wanted to have more free time to work on mining-related projects. This created a conundrum, and in solving it we each set ourselves on the path to becoming a mining consultant.
Hunting For Denim
Through Mojave Underground, we were contacted by one of the most interesting entrepreneurs I have ever met. Brit Eaton, or Indiana Jeans as he is otherwise known, is probably the greatest denim hunter in the world. He hunts for denim, and especially old jeans, on the old ranches and in the abandoned mines of the American West. Brit wanted to get further into abandoned mines, and we had the skills and knowledge to get him there. Through many adventures, misadventures, and other notable occurrences – we successfully discovered a lot of denim and vintage clothing together. During one of these adventures, a conversation occurred that changed the course of our lives and can be directly attributed to the start of our mining consultant journey.
Brit asked us one day if we had ever considered starting a company and exploring abandoned mines commercially. The thought had never crossed our mind, but we gave it some consideration. After all, there is value in being able to map out and sample abandoned mine workings that are generally inaccessible – especially in areas where historical records may be lost. At the very least, I figured we could start charging Brit for our services.
A Mining Consultant is Made
The stars aligned not long after that fateful conversation with Brit, and Crystal and I decided to take the jump in 2010. It was more of a headfirst jump into the deep end; we both quit our day jobs and decided to explore abandoned mines full time. We had exactly one project lined up at the time, but we were full of youthful ambition and had just enough money saved up to float us a few months. In a way, we were already in the mining consulting business, with a very specific focus on safely mapping, sampling, and surveying abandoned mine workings.
We managed to string together a few projects over that first year, but things started to get meager by 2012. We had sold most of our furniture, were working all sorts of odd side jobs to help pay the mortgage, but we stuck it out. Turns out abandoned mine exploration is a viable and needed service, but there isn’t enough work for it to be the only service a mining consultant provides.
Another Opportunity to Learn and Grow
The fates twisted again in 2012 and we have presented an opportunity to expand our little business into claim staking and land work. The only catch was that we needed to stake the claims quickly in Arizona in July. Braving the extreme temperatures and fighting off heat exhaustion daily, we learned how to stake claims from an old prospector. Fortunately, we survived the trip and were able to use our new knowledge to expand our mining consultant services! From then on, we surveyed and sampled abandoned mines when needed, and staked claims on a fairly regular basis. In addition to being a very busy mining consultant, I was working closely with Crystal who was managing more techs in the field. This allowed us to bring in help as needed for the bigger projects
Claim staking eventually led to more complex land work like GIS mapping, soil sampling, basic lab work, etc., and over the years our team grew and grew. We added team members as subcontractors to fill the gaps in our collective knowledge and experience. As a young mining consultant, I was absorbing as much knowledge as possible from clients, colleagues, books, and even taking college classes online to expand our skillsets and improve our services. Meanwhile, Crystal was taking over more and more of the land work and exploring the complexities of US and state mining law and claim staking regulations.
The Mining Consultant Sandman
This broader suite of services eventually led us beyond land work and mineral exploration in the Western United States and we began consulting on a broader range of mineral commodities. In 2013, we began providing mining consulting and exploration services heavily for frac sand other industrial minerals, such as clays, which gave us broader exposure to overall project economics, logistics, engineering, and permitting. This is where we began looking at projects through the feasibility level – giving us the unique experience of having taken a project from initial prospecting through feasibility.
The Mining Consultant Builds a Great Team
As the frac sand boom settled, we applied this experience to the construction aggregates market, which took us nationwide and even led to some international work in places as far-flung as Saudi Arabia. In 2018 we added a full-time mining consultant and analyst, Chris Summers, who is now acting as CFO. With Chris on board, we were able to enhance our analytical services and dig even deeper into valuations, mining finance, risk analysis, and market analysis for commodities.
Since 2018 we have expanded our team from 4 employees and a handful of subcontractors to nearly 20 employees – and we have ambitious plans to continue this trajectory long into the future.
The mining industry is certainly not the easiest industry to enter, and the challenges and headwinds seem to always be growing, but I am glad that we are here to help our amazing clients. I am a mining consultant, and I am proud of our Burgex team, proud of our journey, and proud of the strong values that we have forged along the way.