Title 2020 Mineral Exploration - A Licence to Drill Degree of recognition National Media name/outlet ResourceStocks Magazine Media type Duration/Length/Size 2p Country/Territory Australia Date 11/04/14 Description How do you find an orebody? For many exploration companies the default answer is to just get out there in a 4WD to the back of beyond and then start to kick rocks. The hope is to stumble over the ‘next big thing’ in the process.
The chances of success are extremely low of course – even if area selection for exploration is backed up by state-of-the-art geophysics, geochemistry and geology.
What’s more is that odds are slowly getting worse. Why is that exactly? Leaving aside the current challenges of raising new capital to conduct a meaningful exploration campaign, the answer is simple. In a nutshell, those economic mineral deposits that have a surface expression are likely to already been found.
The challenge therefore, both for present and future mineral explorers, is now to seek out the deeper yet still economic deposits that lie undercover; buried beneath many tens or even hundreds of metres of younger rocks which have little or no mineralisation within them for guidance.
This challenge may sound an extremely onerous one – and is – but is a challenge that has largely already been overcome in the world of oil and gas exploration. So mineral explorers for the likes of gold, silver, copper, lead-zinc, uranium, potash, platinum and coking coal are now turning to oil and gas methods and practices for clues as to how to locate the next generation of deeper deposits.
The quest is one that must be won – because extensions to existing mines in these commodities will not be anywhere near sufficient to supply the world’s future metal and minerals needs.
Such is the recognition and scale of this challenge that a number of Australian organisations are coming together to take collaborative steps towards solving the scientific problems that impede success. That is, a new UNCOVER initiative, under the auspices of the Australian Academy of Sciences, with major involvement from both public and private sectors has been kicked off in 2014.
UNCOVER collaborators include the likes of the CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, the Australian state geological surveys and key university departments and research centres.
Australia is a good example itself of the exploration challenge that lies ahead – with the average depth of new discoveries now approaching 100 metres rather than from surface. Indeed, more than 80 per cent of the Australian landmass is deemed to lie undercover – hidden from surface exploration sampling techniques.
The solution to the depth challenge? First of all, the mineral exploration world needs far more highly trained exploration scientists capable of working undercover; the scientific equivalent of James Bond and his 00 colleagues – armed with a licence to drill!
There’s more too of course. The exploration equivalent of Bond-like ‘gadgets’ will not go amiss in this quest too – with key exploration drilling advances being pioneered at the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre based in Adelaide perhaps the equivalent of Bond’s “Q”, the MI6 head of research and development.
But technology-alone cannot solve the problem of deeper mineral exploration; new ways of thinking and new classification systems are needed to determine the latent value and level of risk that is attached to different mineral exploration plays.
What’s more is that exploration scientists will need to better communicate with investors in the resources sector a clearer understanding of the mineral potential that lies undercover. Take for example two drillholes that intersect gold mineralisation. Let’s say that one hole, Hole A, returns 10 metres at 4.5 g/t gold from 50 metres depth and the other drillhole, Hole B, intersects 8 metres at 0.2 g/t gold from 90 metres depth. Which is the more significant hole? Without any other evidence the obvious answer is hole A of course – but when placed in its full geological context the correct answer may well be Hole B. Investors need to understand that.
Explorers need to find new ways to communicate such nuances in the ranking of exploration opportunity to mineral sector investors – else the potential to unlock deeper mineral discoveries may go begging simply for lack of available risk capital (being one area where the metals sector clearly cannot hope to replicate the sheer scale of the oil and gas world in terms of market size and exploration spend).
Can better communication be achieved? Yes of course – but that too is a work-in-progress. Mere “exploration target” definitions as they presently exist will not suffice. Explorers need to devise new communication protocols that are both clear and straightforward to illustrate the real potential of their projects – and in the process filter those projects with lesser potential.
We will succeed: This is one undercover mission that must not fail.
Producer/Author Aspermont Publishing Persons Allan Trench