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UNCOVER, towards the future of Australian exploration

by User Not Found | Mar 04, 2015
THIS week Allan Trench acts as unofficial messenger for the ground-breaking UNCOVER initiative – seeking to unlock the hidden mineral wealth across the unexplored frontiers of Australia. Strictly Boardroom suspects that many readers would have already heard of the UNCOVER initiative, an emerging collaborative effort being championed across industry, state and federal geoscience organisations and by universities alike. For those readers reading of UNCOVER for the first time, the concept owes its origin to a Theo Murphy Think Tank* convened by the Australian Academy of Science.

THIS week Allan Trench acts as unofficial messenger for the ground-breaking UNCOVER initiative – seeking to unlock the hidden mineral wealth across the unexplored frontiers of Australia. (15 December 2014)

Strictly Boardroom suspects that many readers would have already heard of the UNCOVER initiative, an emerging collaborative effort being championed across industry, state and federal geoscience organisations and by universities alike. For those readers reading of UNCOVER for the first time, the concept owes its origin to a Theo Murphy Think Tank* convened by the Australian Academy of Science.

In the last week your scribe has been fortunate enough to attend two forums linked to UNCOVER – firstly an AMIRA** workshop on the topic and then subsequently a keynote presentation from UNCOVER committee chairman Dr Phil McFadden delivered at the University of Western Australia.

You can likely guess the focus of UNCOVER from the name – but let me explain it here should that not be obvious. McFadden sums it up in a nutshell. “Australia has a problem. Our exploration performance has slipped behind other jurisdictions. Exploration elsewhere is achieving greater returns in terms of new discoveries – and companies are spending less in relative terms in Australia as a consequence.”

McFadden cites the following statistics as of concern: “Australia’s share of global exploration for non-bulk commodities has almost halved from its peak of 21% in 2002, coming in at a mere 12%; yet international competitors such as Canada have experienced increases in exploration activities of 4%, rising from 14% to 18% over the same ten year period.”

So why is Australia not the current flavour of the month – or even flavour of the last decade – as a preferred global exploration destination?

McFadden points to the fact that explorers have yet to crack the code of exploring effectively through cover rocks to the prospective geology below as key, hence the need to UNCOVER what lies beneath. “Around 80% of Australia is under cover, with the (incorrect) consequence that greenfields has been perceived as non-prospective here. Yet where is the evidence that the minerals are not there under the cover?”

McFadden continues: “Our integrated science, across all scales is not yet good enough to target ground selection and follow up drilling effectively – particularly in covered areas by greenfield exploration. There is a high probability that the minerals are there but concealed under varying thickness of cover; effectively a new search-space with a different set of characteristics. So, we need to understand this new search space and develop new search concepts and technologies in a new exploration work flow. We have the intellectual capacity to meet the challenge but currently it is not effectively focused or coordinated across the three stakeholder groups; the exploration industry, Government and researcher community. Fundamentally, covered Australia is not a mature exploration space”.

Enter the UNCOVER initiative, of which former Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is patron, with the lofty goal to substantially increase the success rate of mineral exploration in Australia, particularly in the greenfield regolith and sedimentary basins that cover about three-quarters of the continent. This performance improvement will be achieved by developing new targeting science, new technologies and acquisition of new data through an integrated and collaborative program.

The current downturn in exploration funding has perhaps at least one silver lining to it. It is allowing the exploration industry the time to think about how to take the UNCOVER initiative forward – and how to attract a critical mass of funding to the challenge. Road-mapping the future work streams of the initiative was focus of the AMIRA Perth workshop, one of a number of recent workshops across the country.

UNCOVER is coming – and our exploration future depends upon it succeeding.

If you would like to learn more details about UNCOVER or the AMIRA Industry Roadmap “P1162: Unlocking Australia’s hidden potential” please contact either Phil McFadden at the Australian Academy of Science, Robbie Rowe (rjrgeo@iinet.net.au) or Adele Seymon at AMIRA International (adele.seymon@amirainternational; +61 3 8636 9978).

Good hunting.

Allan Trench is professor (value and risk) at the Centre for Exploration Targeting, University of Western Australia, professor of energy and mineral economics at Curtin University Graduate School of Business, a non-executive director to several resources sector companies – and the Perth representative for CRU Strategies, a division of independent metals and mining advisory CRU Group (allan.trench@crugroup.com).

*Australian Academy of Science https://www.science.org.au/high-flyers-think-tanks

**AMIRA International is a member-based organisation of minerals companies and suppliers, created to develop, broker and facilitate collaborative research projects (http://www.amirainternational.com)