SA searches for the next Olympic Dam

Prominent Hill. Image: OZ Minerals.

The South Australian Department for Mining and Energy has released 21 mineral exploration areas on the back of strong interest from North and South American gold explorers.

About a third of the release areas are within the Gawler Craton region, which is home to large-scale copper-gold mines Olympic Dam (BHP), Prominent Hill and Carrapateena (OZ Minerals).

The department’s deputy executive director of mineral resources Pru Freeman acknowledged that the release of 21 exploration areas at one time was an unusually high number in one batch.

This was in part due to not wanting to hold application weeks in the traditionally quiet months of December and January.

“Instead of just releasing a postage stamp here and there, we decided we would do them together fresh in the new year so everyone could regroup and rethink,” Freeman said.

“It generates excitement and interest and gives some of those majors an opportunity to get into South Australia.

“The exploration release area is a merit-based selection so we’re hoping there are many applications for each parcel of land and then there will be rigorous selection process and we’ll be looking to choose the proposal and the applicant with the best credentials and the highest chance of success.”

Global explorers and mining companies must have an Australian office to explore within South Australia.

Freeman expected copper-gold deposits to be the most popular targets among explorer applications, particularly in the eastern half of the Gawler Craton region.

“In that part of the world it’s highly prospective but it’s also quite deep so it would be reasonable to expect that the next Prominent Hill or Carrapateena is under hundreds of metres of cover and that’s expensive to drill so that’s why we’re expecting those medium to large companies to show interest,” Freeman said.

Australia has about 6 per cent of the world’s economic copper resources, of which South Australia hosts 68 per cent of the country’s economic demonstrated resources of copper.

BHP made a huge copper-gold discovery at the Oak Dam West in Gawler Craton in November 2018, 65 kilometres south of the Olympic Dam operation.

“When we first put out our aspirational target for copper production some people said ‘yeah right’ but now it’s actually looking doable and the Oak Dam West announcement late last year really lit the flame,” Freeman said.

The leaseholders will also receive access to data from the almost completed Gawler Craton airborne survey, the largest survey of its kind to be done in Australia.

It captured around 1.8 million line kilometres of data over an area of about 324,000 square kilometres, which is the size of Norway.

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