Mineral explorers face three significant conceptual challenges when targeting high-quality copper deposits: (1) determining whether a deposit is likely to be economic during early-stage targeting; (2) incorporating sustainable development criteria into exploration targeting; and (3) conducting exploration targeting that recognises a long-term industry future characterized by sudden, dramatic changes in technological, economic, socio-political, environmental and other factors. This research will therefore attempt to develop a framework and methodology for tackling these conceptual challenges and guiding exploration targeting.
The first stage will use conventional evaluation techniques to calculate the “theoretical reserve” of copper, representing the proportion of the global copper resource that potentially could be extracted economically. The second stage will draw from analysis of existing copper mine projects under development to calculate the “accessible reserve” of copper. This represents the proportion of the global copper resource that potentially can be extracted economically, but which also has the potential to gain the socio-political and environmental ‘access’ required for sustainable development of the resource. The final stage will use scenario analysis to provide insight into how key industry factors may change in the future and alter our understanding of the accessible reserve. The inherent complexity and unpredictability of the future means that “multiple hypothetical reserves” will be developed representing different plausible hypotheses about copper resources, known or undiscovered, which have the potential for economic and sustainable extraction in the future. The hypothetical reserves can provide a guide for exploration targeting, whilst the methodology itself could be useful conceptual tool for mineral explorers.