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We were pleased to liaise with Geoscience Australia‘s Dr Andrew Heap to talk about the challenges faced by the resources sector in Australia and the objectives of the Exploring for the Future Programme.
Could you tell us about Geoscience Australia and the role it plays for the resources sector?
AH: Geoscience Australia provides a broad range scientific information and advice to assist governments, industry and the community with making decisions about the management of our natural resources both now and into the future. We have expertise in geology, geophysics, geodesy, satellite imagery and topographic mapping.
One of our key priorities is to support investment in mineral and energy resource exploration by providing a national picture of Australia’s geology. We have been collecting and delivering geoscience data to industry for over 70 years, leading to many mineral and energy resource discoveries. A steady stream of new projects is essential to maintain a strong industry and healthy economy.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for the resources sector in Australia?
AH: I believe one of the most significant challenges for the sector is addressing the perception that Australia is a ‘mature’ destination for additional discoveries – that all of the easy and cost-effective discoveries have already been found. Unlocking the mineral potential under cover and being able to sustainably develop the nascent tight and shale gas industries will help to correct this perception.
Another challenge is attracting global investment capital in a time of low commodity prices and tight operating budgets. And finally, understanding the quantity and quality of the nation’s groundwater resources to support resource development, irrigated agriculture and remote communities.
How can the Exploring for the Future Programme help address these challenges?
AH: Exploring for the Future will play an important role in improving our understanding of the resource potential of mineral, energy and groundwater resources in northern Australia. This is an area where total resource potential is poorly known.
It will help address key resource prospectivity questions, and in doing so, stimulate the next phase of exploration and lead to the next wave of discoveries.
The majority of the programme’s expenditure will be used to collect, interpret and deliver new precompetitive data which will be used by industry, government and researchers. We will engage the Mining, Engineering and Technology Services sector to help us collect the data.
Importantly, we will be engaging with the local community, including Indigenous peoples, about the activities associated with the field programs prior to their commencement.
How will the programme be implemented and when will industry be able to access the findings?
AH: The programme will run for four years, beginning in this financial year. We are currently in the scoping phase, seeking input from States and the Northern Territory and industry. We want to align with Commonwealth, State/NT, and industry science priorities.
Following this, it will involve a combination of regional data collection over northern Australia, coupled with more detailed geological studies of select basins/regions to investigate the mineral, energy and groundwater resource potential. Complementary data types will be acquired: Airborne Electromagnetics; Magnetotellurics; gravity; seismic; and geological sampling, including stratigraphic drilling.
We will be releasing data and the geological study findings to the public annually.
Considering trends in the Northern Territory’s mining and exploration sector, what discussions would you like to have with industry representatives at the forum?
AH: I’m interested in better understanding the industry’s priorities and needs for future resources development in northern Australia so we can maximise the programme’s benefits for them.