Rio Tinto opens door to find next discoveries

Stephen McIntosh.

Rio Tinto is eager to talk to junior explorers or technology companies with the potential to help it identify the next major greenfields discoveries.

The company has generated exploration buzz at its Winu copper-gold project in the Paterson Province of Western Australia over the past year.

Despite Winu being at an early stage, Rio Tinto has released two sets of drilling results from exploration at the site to highlight the promise of the project.

The company is undertaking an extensive drilling program at Winu this year, with 12 drill rigs and a 190-person camp currently at the site. It also expects that technology will play an important role as the project advances.

Rio Tinto has also partnered in the Paterson Province with Antipa Minerals in search of copper-gold mineralisation through the Citadel joint venture project.

Winu and Citadel reflect the company’s exploration strategy across its global operations in terms of technology and partnerships.

Rio Tinto group executive, growth and innovation Stephen McIntosh said the company wanted to show that its “door is open” to partner with junior or technology companies for exploration.

“We don’t have an exclusive licence on good ideas for exploration. We want people to come to us with their good ideas,” McIntosh told reporters at the Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum on Monday.

“We’ve got the funding and we’ve got the ability to scale in a way that very few organisations have. We have this world-leading track record of discovery success and it is a core part of the business.”

In his Diggers and Dealers presentation, McIntosh lamented a lack of exploration discoveries in the mining industry over the past decade following an encouraging start to the century.

Post the global financial crisis (GFC), in particular, McIntosh highlighted a “steady and precipitous decline” in discoveries despite exploration funding peaking in 2012.

McIntosh said the reasons for the lack of discoveries are ”many and complex”, ranging from industry capability, land access challenges through to gaps in targeting capabilities.

He also believes consolidation that occurred across the industry through the 80s, 90s and early-mid 2000s caused a focus on early stage exploration to fall away.

Rio Tinto plans to astutely use technology to tackle the exploration issue, with a focus on finding assets that are in plain sight or hiding under shallow cover.

“What we are going to see is the rise of AI (artificial intelligence) and the rise of data science coming in to our sector,” McIntosh said.

“We already have enormous amounts of data and clearly we already have a data science capability working within the group that is maturing very quickly, so we can leverage the scale of that.

“We are now talking increasingly to data start-ups that are supporting the exploration sector.”

In 2018, Rio Tinto invested $US231 million ($341 million) on greenfields exploration, an amount McIntosh commented was set to rise this year.

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