Exploration of the future

GETTING better pre-competitive data together and using that to stimulate better exploration is one vision for the exploration approach of the future.
Exploration of the future Exploration of the future Exploration of the future Exploration of the future Exploration of the future

Improving on the coiled tubing Roxplorer rig is one of the MinexCRC's aims.

Minex Cooperative Research Centre CEO Andrew Bailey, who will be addressing this very topic at Future of Mining Australia, said the different state geological surveys were already working on that.

Indeed, some of the MinexCRC's work revolves around helping those geological surveys.

Three of its nine projects are tied up with the National Drilling Initiative, which aims to drill multiple holes in a region to map the regional geology and architecture and define the potential for mineral systems in three dimensions.

"The big discoveries are out there," Bailey said.

"It's just how you discover them."

Bailey said the MinexCRC had $25 million at its disposal through the NDI.
The problem is, most of the big discoveries in the past couple of decades were found through detecting outcropping and the chances of further such near surface discoveries are slim.

The next range of discoveries will likely be made at depth - which is a challenge for an industry that has, until fairly recently, only really had to scratch the surface to find something.

Bailey believes, will put an increasing pressure on drilling technologies rather than sensing technologies.

Drilling deep is more expensive than explorers have been used to. Anything that can be done to make drilling cheaper will be a boon.

So too is something that will make drilling deeper safer.

As drilling goes deeper the risk of harm to the drillers can increase, particularly with conventional drill rig technologies. These rigs require rods to be added to the drill string as the depth increases and those rods are handled manually.

One solution is the coiled tubing drilling technology MinexCRC inherited from its predecessor the Deep Exploration Technology CRC.

Some of the DETCRC technology has been taken by Barrick Gold for commercialisation.

Bailey said the MinexCRC was working on improving on the coiled tubing technology - getting it to go deeper than 500m and to make it steerable.

One benefit of coiled tubing is that there are no rods to change, so it is safer for the drillers.

Bailey said making a coiled tubing rig steerable would help reduce its footprint.

"Coiled tubing is not the answer to everything though," he said.

"It will have a niche in the market."

Bailey believes the technology will be ideal for depths 200m to 600m.

Coiled tubing is an approach widely used in the oil and gas industry, however, what MinexCRC and the DETCRC before it, did was make it suitable for the mining industry.

Oil and gas drilling can cost up to 10 times what mineral explorers normally pay.

Bailey said the coiled tubing systems used in oil and gas could not handle the hard rock conditions miners were dealing with.

On the exploration front, the news that Anglo American was coming back into the market last year has him positive for the future of exploration in Australia.

Anglo American applied for 19 contiguous licences over 5700sq.km in western Queensland near Mt Isa.

"That's what we want," Bailey said of the Anglo American move.

"The big guys coming back in helps stimulate the industry."

  • Future of Mining Australia is on March 25 and 26 at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth hotel. It features some of mining's thought leaders speaking on key issues affecting the industry now and into the future.