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Exploration for mineral deposits – global trends

Measuring the effectiveness of geological exploration and looking for trends that will lead to improved exploration success are key drivers for continued investment in the exploration industry.

Expenditure on exploration in Australia, for example, reached a peak in 2008, which reflects a massive increase in exploration for iron ore resources and, to a lesser extent, coal resources. The correction after the global financial crisis in late 2008 resulted in a significant drop in 2009 – up to 42% globally, most of which was recovered in non-ferrous mineral exploration expenditures in 2010.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics report on current trends shows continuing strength, but the return on expenditure on new deposits has been disappointing. Geoscience Australia identifies only one gold discovery, three base metal discoveries and one molybdenum discovery from 2008-2010.

This decreasing discovery rate is reflected in Australia strongly focused on brownfields drilling, with 63% of expenditure on those targets. While the latest trends show a slight increase in greenfields exploration, the overall trend shows a continuing focus on areas with a higher probability of success.

With respect to greenfield exploration, the industry is moving from a phase of discovery of near-surface deposits to generating methods for discovery of deposits at depth, either below an unconformity or within a basement terrane, but with no exposure at surface.

Both areas present significant exploration challenges if the cost of discovery is to remain within economic bounds.

SRK remains at the forefront of providing high-quality support to exploration companies active in both brownfields and greenfields exploration. Search for deep or buried deposits relies on exploration targeting from geophysical datasets or specialised geochemical datasets by applying quality structural geology to geological interpretation of them. Geological analysis remains a key component of greenfields exploration support, and detailed mapping and advanced visualisation of structural data applied to brownfields or resource expansion projects can add significantly to success. Particularly in brownfields, advances in 3D modelling significantly enhance the probability of success and capability in designing drill programs based on geophysical and structural targets. Applying new modelling and visualisation techniques is at the core of this competency.

This newsletter provides case studies where SRK has contributed significantly, delivering discovery efficiently and improving exploration success in an exploration environment that is increasingly technically challenging.

Peter Williams:

Graphs showing global trends in exploration from 2003 - 2011.

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