PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Innovation and application of new technology will be vital to unlocking resource exploration potential, diversified miner BHP said this week.
Speaking at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention, BHP’s chief technical officer, Laura Tyler, stated that the exploration industry is faced with a scarcity of high quality resources and the necessity of higher standards of sustainability.
“The current residual search space for new mineral districts is reducing, and future districts now lie in areas of high country risk, or in lower-risk jurisdictions under cover. The minerals industry is in transition to undercover exploration much like the petroleum industry transformation to deep sea exploration some decades ago. To do this, we must rely on a holistic evaluation of the mineral system, gaining a full appreciation of the potential of a district through an understanding of its formation.
“Discovery of what we call ‘Tier 1’ resources has therefore become more technically challenging, but at the same time, more engaging,” Tyler said.
She noted that stakeholders and society had also become more aware of the impact that the mining industry could have on the environment, and that expectations, quite rightly, have continued to evolve and grow.
“The interesting catch to all this is that under even the most aggressive decarbonisation scenarios, the world needs more minerals, and therefore more discoveries leading to more mines.
“In a 1.5-degree scenario the world is expected to need almost twice as much steel in the next 30 years as it did in the last 30. Copper production will have to double over the next 30 years to aid the development of renewable technologies and distribution of new charging infrastructure.
“And nickel production will have to increase nearly four-fold to power the next generation of battery technology and the forecast demand for electric and hybrid vehicles.
“And the world will still need oil and gas to power mobility and everyday modern life on the pathway to decarbonisation. Finally, potash will be vital to ease pressure on scarce, arable land,” Tyler said.
She noted that in order to fully seize the opportunity to be part of a sustainable future, mining companies had to minimise their material and environmental footprints, with a focus on high quality resources defined by more extractable metal per kilowatt hour and ton of water.
“This must now be a key consideration in the exploration and evaluation phase: we must find resources that can become mines, and operate feasibly under higher sustainability standards,” she said.
Tyler said that technology would be a key enabler of this exploration, noting that while the majority of the exploration industry was of the opinion that the golden age of discovery is past, that industry was based on using technology geared to at-or-near surface discovery.
“However it is my belief that the golden age of discovery is ahead of us,” she added.
“By harnessing technology we can make the Earth at 400 metres depth as transparent to exploration as the surface of the Earth is today,” she added.
Tyler also noted that collaboration and partnerships, both internal and external, would propel the future of exploration, allowing explorers to draw on multiple data sets, technical backgrounds, and multiple disciplines and skills to amplify the understanding of mineral systems and yet-to-find search spaces.
“From where I sit, the opportunity in front of us is huge. I see great prosperity as we collaborate to discover the commodities of the future…faster, more efficiently and more sustainably than ever before,” she said.