Industry needs to explore smarter: Smyth

EXPLORATION in Australia has improved but needs to get smarter as the sector faces increasing challenges presented by the nature of deposits according to former Toro Energy chair and exploration expert Dr Erica Smyth.
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Dr Erica Smyth

Jack McGinn

Presenting the keynote Sir Arvi Parbo Oration to delegates at the AMEC Convention in Perth yesterday, Smyth said things had come a long way from exploration in the past but needed to develop further.

She pointed out the challenges presented by underground resources as an area of particular significance.

“There’s a lot of country left to explore in Australia, but when you have cover it gets very difficult to explore and gets very expensive to explore, so we have to get a lot better at looking at how we look under that cover,” she said.

“Searching undercover is the key for us now and we really do need to find ways to do that better.”

Smyth said geophysics had been an important factor in developments in exploration thus far, with new ground seismic technologies leading the way as companies look to move forward.

“In my day we were using 2D seismic technologies, and then it moved on to 3D seismic. Then we had 4D seismic technologic where we could start to report in time intervals,” she said.

“Now there’s 5D seismic, which creating an enormous amount of data and is completely revolutionising what they’re doing and it’s opening up new areas of exploration.

“These are the step changes that we need to start thinking about making.”

Smyth said while development in drilling had been slower, changes still needed to be explored.

“When we look at drilling, the styles used and the techniques are basically the same. OK, there’s been infrared advancements but the principals are pretty much the same,” she said.

“We haven’t had any revolutionary change. But I think there needs to be change. One of my roles is as a director of CRC Deep Exploration Technologies, and we are spending quite a lot of time looking at how do we change the way we drill and change the way we gather downhole information.

“The most revolutionary thing that we’ve been talking about is an adaptation of a drilling technique used in drilling for gas which is a continuous core drilling method where we can put 500 metres of tubing on the core, and we’ve set the goal of doing it for $50 per metre.

“To do this we’ve had to work on the whole cutting technology at the drill face. To drill through granite is a challenge, but we are succeeding with our trials.”

While Smyth said technology advancements needed to be at the forefront for the exploration sector moving forward, she also called on greater demographic diversity in gender and age within in the mining sector, comparing the workforce to a good wine cellar.

“I’ve discovered over the years that having not only reds but also whites in the wine cellar has increased the value of the collection. I would suggest companies do the same, I think it’s nice to have a mixture in the workplace,” she said.

“There’s also some fantastic international wines, both red and white, and we should be thinking about the diversity of our international wines as well.”

Smyth said those with experience in the sector needed to foster and support the development of the new generation workers entering the industry to ensure the best for the sector moving forward.

“Let’s make sure that as we start to leave the industry we make sure we pass our skills down in any shape or form and in any way we can,” she said.