Prospecting under cover: Frontiers of exploration research – by Kip Keen ( – August 28, 2013)

In Part II of Mineweb’s series on exploration trends, Kip Keen turns to the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre in Australia and talks paradigm shifts.

HALIFAX, NS (MINEWEB) – So the success rate falls. Now exploration money buys fewer discoveries. This was one of the key insights Richard Schodde, of Minex Consulting, discussed in Part I of this interview series on exploration trends. The rate of discovery used to correlate well with increases in spending, in part because the deposits were easier to find. More boots on the ground. More rocks chipped. More ore deposits discovered.

But now the boots are more expensive to pay for and many of the surface rocks, especially in developed countries, have already been kicked forcing exploration to go deeper and become more extensive. Meantime, labour costs, until recently that is, were sky-rocketing amid intense competition to secure services.

To some degree, as the market cools, a process unfolding for a couple years now, the cost of exploration gets cheaper as, for example, geologists lower their rate of pay and drilling contractors cut down margins to get contracts. But it can only go so far. That much is clear now as discoveries, especially in developed countries, come at depth and require increasing geological expertise to find and more drilling.

It’s dragging discovery performance through the mud. Thus, here in the second and final part of Mineweb’s series on exploration trends, we look at cutting edge exploration research.

There isn’t a program like it out there. It’s the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC) headed up by CEO Richard Hillis. It’s an Australian research outfit that started up in 2010 and has A$120 million to spend over eight years. The research here is what really counts – or could really count – though the funding model is worth a mention too: it’s a partnership between the Australian Government and a substantial list of major miners in which the former matches sponsorship by the latter. It ensures critical research gets done, and gets done for the benefit of the industry as the whole, presuming the CRC makes major advances.

Mineweb’s Kip Keen spoke to Hillis late last week to find out exactly how that research is progressing, the answers are found below in this edited and condensed interview.

Kip Keen: Walk me through the genesis of the Deep Exploration research program.

Richard Hillis: Many different geneses. Probably the key one is the declining discovery rate, particularly in the mining developed world: in Canada, in Australia, in South Africa. It’s a very clear recognition that despite the fact we’re spending more money on exploration we’re actually finding fewer deposits.

In the case of copper, for example, we’re not replacing what we are producing. It’s a recognition, particularly in those developed areas, that the easy to find stuff has been found; the ones where geologists would go over the ground with a geo pick, or prospectors with a pan. The deposits that have a signature at the surface are probably mostly found.

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