Each working mine in Australia has a mineral exploration project as its backstory. Without mineral exploration, mining corporations and businesses would not be able to do the vitally important work they do. Consumers in turn would suffer due to impacts to supply.
We would lose the immense benefits to the Australian economy and the key role within the international marketplace that we have to thank for our mining operations here on home soil. Additionally, with our growing population, industrial demands and the inevitable winding up of exhausted mines, greenfield mineral exploration is key in ensuring ongoing viability – for corporations right down to consumers.
Exploration may represent a considerable expense. For example, a few years ago, Australian companies’ annual exploration expenditure added up to over $2 billion. But given it is necessary to determine the economic plausibility of mining, it is an indispensable research and development cost with potentially significant long-term profitability.
Unlike in the distant past, all land is accounted for nowadays. Therefore, consultation with landholders and residents forms a vital step of the approval process. Some land may fall under other protections such as Native Title or the jurisdiction of National Parks, which may put it out of bounds. Biodiversity and whether or not the land is part of a water catchment are also relevant.
To exercise rights under Exploration Licences, a mining company must address environmental impacts with the help of environmental consultants. They must also address public safety, mine work health and safety, any necessary compensations, access concerns and more. This is governed by a range of Acts, for example the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990, depending on state or territory. Within states, a specific regulatory body generally governs exploration and is the final decision maker when it comes to the success of applications.
After having successfully obtained approval with the assistance of a tenement consultant such as Hetherington, the way in which an entity searches for minerals can differ greatly, depending on the resource in question and the environmental setting in which the exploration will be undertaken.
At the heart of any mineral exploration project will be a large mapping component. This will involve transforming the land in question into a mapped representation, which makes it possible to judge where minerals may occur and subsequently be extracted. This process has become less intensive with the development of technology but still involves a large aspect of surface and air surveying, often by drone.
Once mapping has been established, at least in its preliminary stages, it will then be plausible for the mining corporation or entity to undertake more localised testing. This may consist of drilling or testing of water or soil samples.
Here is where a business benefits from the specialist skills of their geological team. Often an Exploration Licence will pertain to a limited selection of minerals, so it is vital that this is accurately accessed in advance and that the application be reflective of this. As a side note, it is not always the exploration company that goes on to mine the land. Some companies undertake mineral exploration and then sell the rights to other, often larger companies.
Interestingly, successful mining exploration that finds an extractable and viable deposit of minerals does not ensure that a Mining Lease or other relevant tenements will be granted and a program of work implemented. This process brings its own legislative complications and success can depend entirely on a company’s approach.
In summary, mineral exploration is key to ensuring the financial viability of mining operations. Counterintuitively, we can judge this from the number of mineral explorations projects which do not find a financially viable amount of mineral deposits. Some research states that a very small percentage of exploration projects result in a successful mining project. Imagine then if no mineral exploration was undertaken. That would drastically reduce the odds of finding future mines to support Australia’s growing population and economy.
This knowledge is a given in the mining world and as such the importance of mineral exploration is understood intuitively by everyone. However, exploration is governed by a range of strict regulations and overseeing bodies. As such, the difficulty is for businesses to ensure they meet all the overarching legislation in a way that guarantees the success of their application.
The world of tenement compliance, environmental approvals and security of title can be highly complex. Many businesses can benefit from the professional services of a legal team specialising in tenements, approvals and compliance. Here at Hetherington we have helped many corporations to successfully obtain the relevant approvals and tenements for mineral exploration and mining operations.
If you think you may benefit from the assistance of our tenement consultants and mining lawyers with tenement management, exploration licences or other mining concerns, contact us directly on 02 9967 4844 (Sydney), 08 9228 9977 (Perth), or 07 3236 1768 (Brisbane).