New drilling program to boost greenfields exploration

A world first drilling program trialling new technologies in South Australia is expected to help revive greenfields minerals exploration in Australia.

The Mineral Systems Drilling Program (MSDP), a collaboration between the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC) and mineral explorers, service providers, researchers, and the government last month, completed trials in SA’s northern Eyre Peninsula of new technologies to increase exploration speed and efficiency.

Conducted over nine months and involving 14 holes and nearly eight kilometres of drilling, the program also revealed valuable geological information on the eastern Gawler Craton Olympic Copper Gold Province, well known as one of the state’s major emerging mineral areas.

The organisations and companies involved included the Geological Survey of South Australia, Minotaur Exploration, Kingston Resources, Imdex, Olympus, and researchers from the CSIRO, Curtin University, and Adelaide University.

Professor Richard Hillis, CEO of DET CRC, said their focus was on trialling the technologies in a real-world drilling program to speed transition from the lab to commercialisation.

“Australia’s share of mineral exploration expenditure has halved from approximately one quarter to one eighth of the world’s total in the last 25 years. The decline in exploration expenditure has paralleled the decline in the discovery of major new mineral deposits in Australia,” he said.

“Decreasing mineral exploration success and expenditure in Australia reflect the fact that relatively easy-to-find mineral deposits with a surface expression have largely been discovered. New mineral exploration provinces must be found hidden beneath barren cover rocks, such as those covering hidden deposits in the Gawler Craton.”

The technologies deliver real-time information which in turn enables faster decision making. They include a fluid management system; a Wireless Sub that monitors drilling parameters; an AutoSonde with gamma sensor that is deployed into a hole and analyses the rocks intersected as the drill rods are pulled out of the hole; the AutoShuttle that is deployed similarly to the AutoSonde and acquires data while drilling is progressing. It is ‘shuttled’ to and from the surface (with its recorded data) every time the core barrel is retrieved; the Lab-at-Rig provides near real-time XRF1 geochemistry and XRD2 mineralogy on drill cuttings, enabling greater confidence in assessing the prospectivity of the drill core.

Geologists and managers will be able to access the data anywhere in the world with information such as operating efficiency, target depth, and intersections provided.

Drill holes can be analysed remotely and follow up holes can be drilled immediately; without having to wait months for analyses and remobilising crews back to remote locations.

Hillis went on to say, “An additional aspect of this type of work that can be forgotten are its benefits to rural and regional economies. From water-trucking to road-grading to 3225 meals served in the bush, over one hundred South Australian suppliers benefitted from this project.”

Mineral resources minister Tom Koutsantonis said real time exploration will alter the way the resources sector carries out mining and exploration, enabling analysis to be conducted then and there.

“People in boardrooms can be analysing this data, making decisions about where the next hole will be and how to invest those vital exploration dollars,” he said.

“This is a game changer for mining and is being developed right here in South Australia.”

The SA government has supported the DET CRCs approach with a $2.5 million investment from their Plan for Accelerating Exploration (PACE) Frontiers programme. The program also provided $145,000 to Monax Mining last year for three projects in SA.

Minotaur Exploration, Kingston Resources and DET CRC also provided an extra $1 million in funding.

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