"Future Exploration"

April 13, 2018 9:00 AM
Dan Wood

Dan Wood,  AO
SEG Thayer Lecture Series

The role of mineral exploration is to create wealth by discovering ore deposits for mining. Unfortunately, the 11-fold increase in exploration expenditure between 2002 and 2012 seems to have resulted in wealth being destroyed, with flow-on effect to investor confidence.  Historically, exploration has mostly targeted deposits for mining by open pit; but the falling discovery rate in recent years suggests that many, if not most, of the “more obvious” near-surface deposits have been discovered, and those remaining will be much more difficult to find.

As a result, future exploration will need to target either near-surface deposits for open pit mining where evidence of their presence is much “less obvious”, or deposits that are located below open-pit mining depth which will have to be mined using an underground method. Where the deeper deposit is large and of lower grade, such as in a porphyry Cu deposit, for example, mining using a caving method is the only presently available way of recovering ore; but most exploration geologists have a limited understanding of how to explore for deposits suited to this form of mining.

Whereas this may seem a hurdle to discovery, the knowledge limitation is easily overcome and is far outweighed by the opening up of a new ‘Greenfield’ exploration terrane, below 300 m depth in the Earth’s crust, down to 2,000 m.

The role of mineral exploration is to create wealth by discovering ore deposits for mining. Unfortunately, the 11-fold increase in exploration expenditure between 2002 and 2012 seems to have resulted in wealth being destroyed, with flow-on effect to investor confidence.  Historically, exploration has mostly targeted deposits for mining by open pit; but the falling discovery rate in recent years suggests that many, if not most, of the “more obvious” near-surface deposits have been discovered, and those remaining will be much more difficult to find.