Exploring For The Future
There is the expectation that the Mount Isa to Tenant Creek region (the barkly plains) the area targeted by the programme have hidden deposits waiting to be discovered of lead, zinc, copper, uranium, red earth and platinum just to name a few.
The Exploring for the Future programme will produce the next generation of pre competitive geoscience data, with a focus on targeted areas of Northern Australia and parts of South Australia. It will improve Australia’s long term exploration prospects and address declining onshore greenfield exploration activities.
The $100 million Exploring for the Future programme will produce pre-competitive geoscience data, to be released on an annual basis over the next four years.
This funding is on top of the $1.1 billion of initiatives outlined in the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Geoscience Australia estimates that around 80 per cent of Australia remains under-explored, in particular, areas in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia, which will be the focus of this initiative.
This will improve Australia’s long term exploration prospects and help address declining new onshore exploration.
The Australian Government is providing $100 million over four years to Geoscience Australia for the Exploring for the Future programme to produce:
• new precompetitive geoscience information that will boost exploration investment by
assisting industry to better target areas likely to contain the next major oil, gas and
• a thorough assessment of groundwater resources; and
• an analysis of the salinity risk for potential agricultural areas.
Why This Is Important
Over the past decade the resources sector has been integral to Australia’s economic prosperity. The resources sector was Australia’s second largest industry in 2014-15, accounting for around a tenth of our GDP and over half of our nation’s exports.
Exploration is important as a precursor to resource development and extraction. However, despite near record increases in exploration investment up to 2013, exploration success measured by a number of world-class tier 1 discoveries has declined over the last 20 years.
In addition, most of our producing mines were discovered decades ago from regions where the mineral-rich basement rocks are exposed or under very shallow cover. Accelerated depletion of the known deposits of non-bulk commodities will lead to a production decline over the next 15-20 years.
The Government is committed to encouraging new exploration to ensure that new deposits continue to be found and a healthy pipeline of resource projects is secured.
The acquisition of new pre-competitive geoscience data will de-risk private sector mineral exploration and help identify major new gas, minerals, and ground water resources. Exploring for the Future is expected to lead to new exploration investment, increase tenement uptake and improved effectiveness of exploration drilling programmes.
What Exploring For The Future Includes
This nationally significant programme will focus on northern Australia and parts of South Australia. It will involve new pre-competitive data acquisition, analysis and delivery using the following innovative tools and techniques:
• Airborne electromagnetic (AEM) surveys
• Stratigraphic drilling
• Seismic and gravity surveys
• Magnetotelluric data acquisition.
The technologies are proven. The programme will enable mapping of the properties of the cover material, including its area and thickness. Collectively these data sets will also help to confirm the overall scale and extent of the resource base. It will also map groundwater.
For example, the AEM surveys will provide ‘X-ray-like’ images of the subsurface. Given the proposal’s scale, most regions will be analysed by AEM for the first time, thereby enabling the identification of areas of high resource potential which would warrant follow up drill testing.
Government Investments In Geoscience Generate Impressive Returns
Geoscience Australia promotes Australia’s resource potential by providing the industry with a national picture of Australia’s geology.
Using this national perspective, Geoscience Australia undertakes targeted data acquisition programmes and develops new information to highlight areas of enhanced mineral and energy potential. This information and knowledge enable the industry to explore and invest in Australia with confidence.
In 1996, Geoscience Australia undertook a pre-competitive programme in the Browse Basin off the coast of North Western Australia. Geoscience Australia’s initial work programme of $3 million has leveraged a $37.4 billion project that will deliver around $72 billion worth of export revenue over the next 40 years.
In the early 2000s Geoscience Australia recognised the potential for exploration in the Great Australian Bight. It later undertook work that demonstrated the existence of likely deposits under the seabed which in turn led to the major exploration programme currently underway.
Geoscience Australia’s total expenditure of $6.6 million has led to work programme commitments in the basin in the order of $1.2 billion.
The Exploring for the Future programme will be led by Geoscience Australia and commence in the second half of 2016.
The programme is planned to conclude in 2020, with new geoscience data scheduled to be released to industry on an annual basis. Data and derived products will be delivered online through the recently redeveloped Geoscience Australia information portal.
At present commodity prices are low and industry is in a downturn. There is capacity in the service sector and consequently, service charges are lower. Undertaking this work now will, therefore, deliver maximum value to the Australian Government.
Exploring for the Future will help position Australia to capture the next wave of investment.
Related Government Initiatives
Exploring for the Future programme builds on the Government’s 2013 election commitment to introduce an Exploration Development Incentive with funding of $100 million over the three years from 2014-15.
The Exploration Development Incentive recognises the challenges faced by junior explorers and the related decline in greenfield mineral exploration activity.
It encourages shareholder investment in small exploration companies undertaking greenfield mineral exploration in Australia. Australian resident shareholders of these companies receive a refundable tax offset where junior explorers make tax losses relating to eligible exploration expenditure.
Unlocking Northern Australia’s full potential
The Coalition Government is implementing our economic plan for the North, investing in roads, dams and infrastructure,” Minister Canavan said.
The $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has signed off on its first investment and has another 11 projects in due diligence.
“Other practical investments include the $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Program which will upgrade at least 150 kilometres of road and the $600 million Northern Australia Roads Program which will upgrade at least 330 kilometres of road and we have $130 million on the table to build the Rookwood Weir.
Australian Minerals Exploration Industry
New Strategic Direction
Geoscience Australia welcomes the COAG Energy Council’s endorsement of the new 2017-2022 National Mineral Exploration Strategy.
The mineral resources sector plays a vital role in Australia’s ongoing economic prosperity.
This new strategy will ensure the continuity and longevity of this essential industry for the benefit of all Australians.
In 2015-16, mining directly contributed around 6 per cent of Australia’s GDP, employed more than 228 000 people and generated 50 per cent of the nation’s export earnings.
While Australia is an established and stable destination for mineral exploration, its share of global exploration investment has been declining over the past two decades.
In 2002 it attracted 21 per cent of global exploration investment for commodities such as gold, copper and other metals. This had fallen to 12 per cent by 2013; due in large part to a lack recent discoveries of large high quality mineral deposits, such as Mt Isa, Broken Hill and Olympic Dam.
Action is needed now to ensure the ongoing competitiveness and sustainability of the Australian resources sector, Dr Andrew Heap, acting Chief of Geoscience Australia’s Resources Division explained.
The mining sector contributes significantly to the nation’s export earnings, provides substantial direct and indirect employment and investment in regional and indigenous communities, supports downstream and service industries, and delivers essential revenue to all levels of government.
An ongoing pipeline of mineral resource projects is needed to meet the future economic needs of our nation, as it currently takes over 12 years on average between the discovery of an economic deposit and the commencement of mine production.
Geoscience Australia has played a key leadership role in developing the Strategy, which draws on the collective capabilities of the Commonwealth, state and North Territory geological surveys to help identify prospective regions and unlock Australia’s future mineral wealth.
The Geoscience Working Group under the auspices of the COAG Energy Council, will work to deliver the National Mineral Exploration Strategy in partnership with key industry and academic stakeholders.
The Strategy addresses key technical risks and the science and technology of mineral discovery required to unlock the potential of underexplored regions of Australia. This is particularly important to support the discovery of mineral deposits under sediment cover, which occurs over vast areas of the continent.
This work is undertaken as part of the broader UNCOVER research initiative which focuses Australia’s relevant geoscience effort on providing the knowledge base and technology that will substantially increase the success rate of mineral exploration in Australia.
The purpose of the UNCOVER initiative is to focus Australia’s relevant geoscience effort on providing the knowledge base and technology that will substantially increase the success rate of mineral exploration beneath post-mineralisation cover in Australia.
The purpose of the UNCOVER initiative is to focus Australia’s geoscience effort on providing the knowledge base and technology that will substantially increase the success rate of mineral exploration beneath post-mineralisation cover in Australia.
Understanding the search space is the beginning of prosperity
Australia’s resilient economy is supported through the exploitation of its enormous natural resource wealth, most of it discovered in the last century. For over a decade resource discovery has not kept pace with extraction, despite significant exploration effort.
It is evident that we have exhausted our easily discoverable near-surface resources and our share of international exploration expenditure has been in decline for over two decades.
This decline in exploration success is in large part due to the difficulty of exploring beneath post-mineralisation sedimentary basins and weathering profiles that cover approximately three-quarters of the continent.
Much of the nation is largely under-explored and future success requires expansion of the search and discovery space to those areas that are under cover.
Understanding of the search space must be deep enough to model and predict our mineral systems.
Long lead times, often exceeding 20 years, between ore-deposit discovery and mining production mean that Australia must act now to implement measures necessary to create the pipeline of projects that will propagate our economic prosperity into the future.
Why do we need UNCOVER?
To raise exploration success in the covered areas of Australia back to what it was in the uncovered areas during the 1970s and 80s. ¾ of Australia is covered so it’s potentially a trillion dollar prize. If only we could find it. We need new technologies to look deeper into the Earth to understand the ground beneath our feet.
But isn’t the mining boom ending? Isn’t UNCOVER coming too late?
No. The development boom means we’re now producing more than ever before, but what next? It takes on average 18 years to find and develop a mineral deposit, so we need to be thinking about the next boom, now.
We don’t have the ‘wait-list’ of deposits ready and waiting like we had last time, so we’re looking at a double loss – unless we act now we’ll lose export dollars while increasing our debt importing the minerals we should be producing.
How many jobs are we talking about?
About 200 000 people are directly and indirectly employed in Australia’s minerals exploration, production and supply chains. Falling exploration success means that all of these jobs will be progressively lost as known mineral deposits get worked out and not replaced with new ones.
Remember: historically mining booms and busts have been about 40% from peak to trough, so it’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking ‘downturns’ are periods of economic inactivity and no employment. The minerals industry quietly underwrites our economy during those times too.
How do you know what the future holds? Aren’t those projections uncertain?
Yes, there are considerable uncertainties. We can however be certain of the important trends: technology development will continue, global population will increase further before it stabilises. Demand for non-bulk commodities will be driven by both of these inevitable factors – and that golden opportunity is appearing just as we are running out of our known mineral supplies.
Isn’t recycling better? Why not just recycle our computers?
Recycling is often a very good option and the increasing mountains of e-waste in particular mean it needs to be taken very seriously. However, even with recycling, the amount of material we need for a high-tech future means we’ll need a lot more of the high-tech minerals before we can rely on recycled volumes.
For example, if we transition to wind and solar electricity, we need four to five times more copper than we currently use in our grid, and it is estimated we will need more copper in the next couple of decades than the whole of humanity has mined so far.
The same is true for the lithium that powers our batteries, and the neodymium that powers our magnets and motors, and many, many more.
Is it just about minerals? What else will UNCOVER do?
Mineral exploration is an important application for the knowledge that UNCOVER will generate, but it is not the only one. UNCOVER aims to develop a new understanding of our whole continent and its formation, which is sure to disrupt many aspects of Earth and environmental science.
Australia may be able to better manage natural hazards, forecast tsunamis more accurately in our region, better model our past to help predict future changes in climate, even understand our groundwater resources in a whole new way… The list is quite literally endless.
Resources For More Information
Australia Geoscience Information Network
Data discovery and analysis portal for geoscience data from all of Australia’s state, territory and federal governments. Includes 1:250 000 scale scanned geological maps.
Geophysical Data Delivery
Discover and download magnetic, radiometric, gravity, and digital elevation data from over 4000 geophysical surveys in Australia, and national scale geophysical grids.
Information for mineral explorers and investors in Australia, including business and investment advice, legislative guidelines, and reporting requirements and processes.
Department of Industry Innovation and Science
Innovation and Science Australia
Office of the Chief Economist