For Francisco Goncalves, the potential inside Cambodia’s natural resource industry is now robust enough to merit his dedicated efforts.
As President Director of McElhanney Ltd, an engineering and surveying company with headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, Mr Goncalves is betting on a rise in demand for specialist services in surveying and mapping for oil, gas and mining companies operating on-shore extraction and exploration projects in Cambodia.
“It is the right time for us to be here because the ventures are in their early stages and we want to provide the oil, gas and mining companies with the base for them to work with,” he said in an interview.
And with a number of onshore concessions in their exploratory stages, his bet could well pay off as it has already in some of Asia’s other resource rich countries like Indonesia the Philippines and Malaysia.
McElhanney produces detailed 3D maps of land by using specialized laser equipment fitted to a helicopter. The distance between the laser and the ground is then measured and stored inside a database as the helicopter scopes the land below.
Mr Goncalves said that data for about 20,000 hectares of land, depending on weather conditions and the slope of the terrain, could take as little as a day to collect, as opposed to traditional surveying techniques, which are done manually, on the ground and can take as long as a year.
Laser beams from the helicopter are capable of piercing through the canopy of dense forest and measurements are accurate up to every square meter of land, he said.
Once readings from where houses stand or from felled trees are deciphered, the maps and surveys are then produced, allowing companies in the construction, mining, telecommunications, forestry and petroleum industries to advance their planning initiatives.
Maps can highlight cross section profiles of land and provide information on slope analysis, the density of vegetation and risk to flooding.
“The great thing about what [Mr Goncalves] is doing is he’s here early. He is setting up some strategic alliances,” said Richard Stanger, president of the Cambodian Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, and Managing Director of Liberty Mining, a wholly owned subsidiary of Transol Corporation Ltd. “There will be enough for them to do as things move along.”
Graham Moir, spokesman for McElhanney, said that accurate mapping was key to exploration projects in Cambodia, as detailed aerial shots of a concession area are essential when locating drill holes in strategic areas.
“Survey maps are basically required as early as possible,” he said, underling the current interest in onshore oil and gas reserves among foreign companies.
Indeed, Mr Goncalves admits the success of McElhanney depends on the natural fluctuations in the economy as well as the price of commodities. Not to mention the ability among natural resource companies to succeed in their exploratory activities.
“But… when they’re ready to go we’ll provide the detailed maps and the basic information that they need,” said Mr Goncalves.
Despite costs as high as $250,000 for services spanning over 20,000 hectares, more traditional surveying techniques can cost four times that price.
Mapping services completed on the ground require several teams of specialist surveyors to be present in the country for about a year for an area of 20,000 hectares. Moreover, manual labors for ground clearance must be employed and transportation costs soon mount up, said Mr Goncalves.
Though McElhanney has already been present in Cambodia working for the public sector in building up the country’s land management capacity, this is the first time the firm has ever targeted companies in the private sector.
“This is my second visit to Phnom Penh, so we are in the early stages,” said Mr Goncalves. “But we see mapping services as the roots for future development.”