Exploration is vital to ensure the ongoing strength of Queensland’s mining and petroleum resource sectors. We had the chance to speak to Brad John, Chief Government Geologist at the
Geological Survey of Queensland about government initiatives to attract investment for new mining and exploration projects in Mount Isa. He also shared some insights into the geological particularities of the region.
Funding is a critical issue for mining and exploration projects. The Geological Survey of Queensland (GSQ) is managing the Future Resources Program to fund seven initiatives supporting Queensland´s resources and exploration industries. How do you expect these various initiatives to help attract resource investment in the region?
Brad John: The Queensland Government continues to put significant effort into ensuring the north-west of the State is a preferred target for mineral and energy resource exploration. Exploration is vital to the ongoing strength of Queensland’s mining and petroleum resource sectors. Exploration today will help unearth the new coal, mineral, petroleum and gas resources that will drive the mines and gas projects of tomorrow; and the jobs and economic benefits that will deliver for all Queenslanders. Projects proposed by industry and undertaken by GSQ through the $7.5 million Industry Priorities Initiative are an effective way of exploiting the enormous potential of the north-west through focussed research that promotes further discoveries of not only the known commodities of the area such as base and precious metals, but also new resources such as the recently discovered strategic metals, rhenium and yttrium.Another is the continuation of the successful Collaborative Drilling Grants Initiative, with a further $3 million to support exploration success by co-funding the drilling costs of innovative exploration programs. The north-west has been a prominent beneficiary of the initiative to date, representing over one third of projects as well as having the same success rate in discovering new mineralisation. Examples are Red Metal’s Maronan Project* and Krucible Metal’s Champ Project**, with increased or new discoveries of base metals in the region.
The Queensland Government’s $9 million Mount Isa Geophysics Initiative will acquire datasets to boost exploration success rates in Mount Isa’s greenfields regions, recognised as key to the future of the northwest. As part of this initiative, magnetotelluric observations will be used to create a 3D conductivity picture of the crust, which can be used to infer likely pathways and sites of mineralisation. These range from actual conductive ore bodies, often associated with conductive black shale bodies or conductive sulphide-bearing horizons, to structural pathways for mineralising fluids such as faults traced by conductive mineral alteration, or conductive groundwater or magmatic fluid. This technique is most effective for detecting MountIsa-style black shale basins concealed beneath shallow cover rocks near the southern margin of the exposed Mount Isa Inlier, and also for iron oxide copper gold deposits beyond the eastern exposed margin of the Inlier. Selected seismic survey lines will also be conducted to calibrate the magnetotelluric surveys.
The $3 million Geochemical Data Extraction Initiative will make available valuable geochemical data extracted from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines’ company reports archive, assisting industry to identify areas of high future exploration potential in the north-west’s mineralised regions.
So too, the $1.5 million Seismic Section Scanning Initiative will ensure all hardcopy company seismic sections of Queensland’s subsurface basins are scanned for preservation, making access to them easier for industry, now that the north-west has shown strong potential in petroleum and geothermal resources as well as minerals.
In a recent ABC News article, you stressed the important role of government to reduce the risk for investments by capturing and supplying geological data to industry. The Queensland Government has recently published the 970-page strong Geology of Queensland: a milestone of geological knowledge. What were the driving factors for putting the book together? How can the collated information assist decision-makers in the mining and exploration industry to navigate their businesses through economically challenging times?
Brad John: The Geology of Queensland was put together to encapsulate all of the recent research on the geology of our state. Since the last Queensland Geology book was published, nearly 30 years of geological mapping and research have redefined our understanding of the geological development of the state.
The book accompanies a new map on the geology of Queensland released in 2012. New exploration models for many commodities are described to assist exploration companies in the delineation of new deposits, and to assist in the definition of prospective ground in which to explore, reducing risk and maximising the chances of success.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for the resources sector in Queensland and more specifically in North West Queensland?
Brad John: The biggest challenge for the resources sector in Queensland at the moment is to attract the necessary funding for the higher-risk greenfields exploration.
Innovation will be necessary to find the new giant deposits yet to be discovered under sedimentary cover surrounding the exposed Mount Isa Inlier. Innovative exploration models, perhaps incorporating concepts for unknown but geologically possible mineral systems for the region will be required, as well as innovative new geophysical or geochemical methods able to “see” beneath cover. Once found, these new deeper deposits will require cheaper drilling, bulk mining and metallurgical technologies to ensure greenfields exploration and mining remains economically feasible and attractive. Many of these problems are being tackled by the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC, and the UNCOVER Program with which the GSQ is affiliated.
What do you think are the most exciting developments in the resource sector and how can North West Queensland benefit from them?
Brad John: The most significant development is the Queensland Government’s removal of the former bans on uranium and oil shale mining in Queensland. This will enable the Westmoreland uranium project and the Julia Creek oil shale deposit, both of which are in this region, to be developed.
Uranium is an emerging industry in Queensland that could inject billions of dollars for our economy. That’s why the Queensland Government is working towards developing a world’s best practice regulatory framework to support the sustainable development of uranium mining.
When you look at the north-west, uranium is very prominent as a stand-alone commodity or in association with copper and gold. Think of deposits such as Valhalla, Skal, Odin and Bikini, just to name a few. Over 95,000 tonnes of uranium oxide has been identified in north-west Queensland, representing some 90% of recognised deposits in the State.
In terms of oil shale Queensland has over 90% of Australia’s resource. On this front, north Queensland again delivers with the largest known resource located in the Julia Creek area. This extensive and potentially productive shale deposit has the potential to produce over 1700 million barrels or 270,000 megalitres of oil.
You will be speaking at the 2013 Mining & Exploring the Isa Conference. In terms of geology, what makes the region unique?
Brad John: Mount Isa has been at the crossroads of intense geological activity for nearly 400 million years, largely before the rest of the rocks in Queensland were even formed. At around 1870 million years ago, the crustal region around Mount Isa experienced the first of a long series of alternating periods of extension and compression, driving fluid circulation and magmatism, and concentrating metals like copper, gold, zinc and lead in chemically or structurally favourable sites in the crust. The Mount Isa deposit is a prime example, forming atop a rifted basin around 1650 million years ago, accompanied by localised magmatism, large volumes of circulating fluid, numerous faults, and chemically favourable sedimentary layers. Another unique combination of events occurred in the Cloncurry region where carbonate-rich sequences that formed in a wide shallow sea between 1750 and 1600 million years, formed a favourable rock type for trapping gold, uranium and rare earth minerals introduced during hotspot-related magmatism which passed through the region between 1550 and 1500 million years ago. What’s most important though about Mount Isa is that all the rocks hosting these mineral systems have remained preserved for over 1500 million years awaiting discovery by enterprising explorers.
Considering trends in Queensland’s mining and exploration sector, what discussions would you like to have with industry representatives at the forum?
Brad John: The Queensland Government continues to put significant effort into ensuring the north-west is a preferred target for mineral and energy resource exploration. At the GSQ we welcome events such as the Isa Conference to seek feedback from industry on our initiatives and how effectively we provide the information from such initiatives.
I will be asking industry representatives for their feedback on the package of Future Resources initiatives that I’ve outlined here, and how effective the information they provide will be for industry to identify new resources in north-west Queensland. I’ll also want to be able to gauge the effectiveness of GSQ’s strategies in helping to lower the risks associated with exploring in this region – or to put it another way, in helping to encourage investment and improve the likelihood of resource development.
Surveys such as that conducted by the Fraser Institute show GSQ is delivering what industry requires. We are very conscious of our role in attracting exploration and resource investment to Queensland to ensure the sustainability of the mining and energy resource industries that are vital wealth generators of the State.
* Rob Rutherford, Managing Director of Red Metal will be presenting at Mining & Exploring the Isa. His presentation is titled: Red Metal – Searching for the “Next Isa”.
** Allan Branch, Managing Director of Krucible Metals will also deliver a talk at the forum. He will address: Pricing dynamics of the rare earths industry. You can view the full conference agenda here.