It is time we changed our industry. We are still living in the 1950s when it comes to drill targeting efficiency in mineral exploration. Give a bunch of geologists a map, replete with some anomalous areas that could host economic mineralisation and you’ll get as many answers to how to plan the drilling effort to reveal and then test targets as there are geologists in the room.
That’s not a good situation.
Actually, it is worse than that – it is downright scary. How can we expect investors to trust us with their risk capital when drill targeting is based on thumb-suck experience from past successes, as opposed to rigorous three-dimensional spatial statistics and geometry (in addition to the benefit of hindsight that comes from experience)? We need new tools to help us. Right now we aren’t quite on the ball, so-to-speak.
Here is a recent example for you. Your scribe taught a class of international geoscientists in 2012 and gave each of four groups in the class (with a typical group comprising 4-6 geoscientists) a “stylised” cartoon geological map. The map area was 50km by 100km by recollection – so there was plenty of room to “hide” even very large mineral deposits.
The exercise was akin to an exploration version of the children’s game of Battleships, where you first hide your fleet from your opponent and then declare whether the various attempts to sink the naval fleet based on torpedoes fired at specified grid coordinates were successful or not. The exploration version is not dissimilar, except this time you are hiding mineral deposits rather than ships and submarines.
First to the good news: The entire map area was indicated as prospective for orogenic gold occurrences, diamonds, nickel sulphides and VMS copper-zinc deposits, with various historical occurrences indicated to help the targeting along.
Not all mineral deposits are equal, of course. One might consider a diamond mine to be the equivalent of a submarine in Battleships, being a small target that is hard to find. An orogenic gold system, on the other hand, may leave a far larger spatial footprint – akin to a destroyer or aircraft carrier in the Battleships gaming analogy.
Now for the bad news; while approximately half the map was indicated as lying in residual terrain – including all the historical mineral occurrences – the other half of the map was indicated as entirely covered by younger sediments, with a thickness of some 50-100m. For this area of the map, the prospective rocks lay beneath the younger cover rocks.
To the results then: despite an accompanying dataset provided with the map that indicated the median IPO capital raising for a listed junior explorer at only $5 million, the various groups still proposed many times that spend in their respective exploration campaigns. Costing the campaigns was very high-level; but with different drill costs based on depth and type of drilling.
The proposed work plans included permutations for drill-spacing for reconnaissance work in the covered areas. Also, various geophysical surveys were proposed for those readers who hail from a geophysical background – as were the likes of stream sediment sampling, soil geochemistry and rock-chip sampling for the geochemists who are reading. One group even breached the $100 million mark in proposed exploration spend for the map area!
If anyone wants a copy of the Exploration Battleships geology cartoon, then feel free to contact Strictly Boardroom and the geological sketch is all yours.
On a more serious note, however, the Centre for Exploration Targeting at the University of Western Australia is in the process of developing the new tools required. The CET has developed a far more sophisticated Exploration Simulator (as opposed to Strictly Boardroom’s Exploration Battleships game) using real exploration data and serious computing power to achieve the same objective of up-skilling our collective approach to exploration targeting. Now that really is worth seeing.
Allan Trench is a professor at Curtin Graduate School of Business and professor (value & risk) at the Centre for Exploration Targeting, UWA, a non-executive director of several resource sector companies, and the Perth representative for CRU Strategies, a division of independent metals and mining advisory CRU group. (firstname.lastname@example.org).