Australia is positioned to become a global leader of under cover mineral exploration, as new mineral discoveries extend much deeper and become more challenging to find.
The new 2017-2022 National Mineral Exploration Strategy, released by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Energy Council, highlights that exploration under cover is one of the most significant technical challenges facing mineral explorers worldwide, especially in Australia.
It added the under cover challenge provides a key opportunity for mineral discoveries as most of Australia’s profitable mines were discovered at the surface.
“This cover challenge provides an opportunity for discovery, since most of the long-life profitable mines have been found in the 20 per cent of the Australian continent that has prospective rocks and tier one deposits exposed at, or close to, the surface,” the report said.
“The remaining 80 per cent of the continent represents a largely unexplored or under-explored opportunity with vast flat-lying plains of sands, soils and gravels covering prospective rocks.
“There is no reason to believe that these covered prospective rocks are any less endowed in minerals than the well-established mining regions.”
The report added that Australia was well based to acquire pre-competitive information in those under-explored areas, increasing its potential for discovery of new tier one deposits, and becoming a global hub for under cover mineral exploration.
“Australia also has the opportunity to be the global leader and centre of excellence (the ‘Silicon Valley’) for under cover exploration,” it said.
“Our skills and demand by other nations facing similar challenges, which will create enormous additional opportunities for export earnings and well paying jobs.”
However, the report also noted that the “appetite for mineral exploration” had declined, with many major mines coming to the end of their economic life. This was particularly evidenced by a focus on near-mine exploration instead of under-explored regions that have high discovery potential but also have a higher risk.
There are some threats to these discoveries, however, with Australia facing global competition for investment in mineral exploration. There is also increasing pressure from government and the community for mines to adhere to social and environmental needs.
“As a result there has been an increase in costs through longer lead times to access land and complying with stricter regulations and increased community expectations,” the report noted.
The report reinforced the importance of Australia finding new, high-quality deposits to meet the nation’s future economic needs.
It outlined four strategic initiatives, to be delivered by the Geoscience Working Group (GWG), to help strengthen mineral exploration.
These include encouraging investment, through gathering pre-competitive geoscience data to reveal new mineral opportunities and implementing a mineral exploration investment attraction plan; harnessing our capability through collaboration with key stakeholders; protecting the environment though using pre-competitive datasets to monitor datasets; and supporting people and communities through economic benefit generated.