Mineral Exploration Roadmap
There is nothing more exciting than making some type of discovery.
Discoveries can come in many forms – they can be physical, scientific, personal, or even philosophical in nature. But while there are different types of discoveries that can be made, perhaps the most tactile kind of discovery is in the field of mineral exploration.
The discovery of a mineral deposit can transform a piece of “moose pasture” into a new economic asset, and it may enable millions or billions of dollars worth of metals and minerals to be used for human purposes.
These minerals get used all around us – they go into our houses, cars, infrastructure, jewelry, electronics, and they can even be used to power the green revolution.
From Prospecting to Production
Making an economic mineral discovery is the goal of many teams around the world, but these efforts can also be extremely difficult, costly, and time-consuming, and most companies engaged in exploration end up walking away empty-handed.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Orix Geoscience and it shows the steps of mineral exploration, and how teams can maximize their odds of success by using data to add value throughout the process.
Steps of the Mineral Exploration Process
1. Exploration Strategy
Where do you choose to explore? There are two basic strategies:
(a) Working from the known
Deposits tend to form in clusters in prolific belts, and exploration occurs outward from known mineralization.
(b) Working from the unknown
If you review all available information, prospective areas with potential for discoveries can be identified.
In this stage, boots are now on the ground – and it’s time to explore the backwoods for showings. Prospectors will stake claims, map outcrops and showings, and search for indicator minerals.
The goal of the prospecting stage is to find the earliest piece of the exploration puzzle: the clue that there is something much bigger beneath.
3. Early-Stage Exploration
Congrats, you’ve found something interesting – and now it’s time to ramp up exploration efforts!
This is where the amount of data and sophistication picks up. In this stage, companies are using existing maps and historical data, geophysics, ground truthing, geochemistry, and trenching to try and identify drill targets.
4. The “Truth Machine”
Geologists don’t call the drill a “truth machine” for nothing.
If you’re target hits, you’re in business. If your target misses, it’s time to go back a step and find new ones.
Eureka! You’ve found something. Now it’s time to see how far the mineralization goes!
Once you have enough information, you can get an official resource estimate. This data is another puzzle piece that will be crucial as you advance your discovery.
Even at the best of times, mining can be expensive, risky, and tricky.
That’s why your investors and backers will want you to source even more data – it’ll allow you to see a clearer picture of the deposit, and help your team see how it could take shape as a mine.
At this stage, drilling, metallurgical tests, environmental assessments, 3d models, and mine designs are used to increase confidence in the project.
Data starts to get very granular. Your company may do a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) to assess the potential economic outcomes of a mine. Then after, they may conduct an in-depth Feasibility Study to help make a production decision.
By this point, you may have all the puzzle pieces – a clear vision of the deposit and its potential – to make a decision!
If the puzzle looks good, it’s time to make a production decision, construct the mine, and start commercial production. But the data doesn’t stop there – at these later stages, even more data gets created and it can help you make better decisions.
The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns
Which individual commodities were the best performers in 2019, and how do those numbers compare to the past decade of data?
The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns 2019
In 2019, every major asset class finished in the black.
And although the broad commodity market finished up 17.6% on the year, the performances of individual commodities were all over the map. For those familiar with the sector, that’s pretty much par for the course.
That said, the lack of an obvious correlation in commodity markets also makes for a thought-provoking and humbling exercise: comparing the annual returns of commodities against the data from the past decade.
A Decade of Commodities (2010-2019)
Today’s visualization comes to us from U.S. Global Investors, and it compares individual commodity returns between 2010 and 2019.
You can use the interactive tool on their website to toggle between various settings for the table of commodity returns, such as breaking them down by category (i.e. energy, precious metals, etc.), by best and worst performers, or by volatility over the time period.
Let’s dive into the data to see what trends we can uncover.
Palladium: The Best Commodity, Three Years Straight
In 2019, palladium finished as the best performing commodity for the third straight year — this time, with a 54.2% return.
You could have bought the precious metal for about $400/oz in early 2010, when it was a fraction of the price of either gold or platinum.
Nowadays, thanks to the metal’s ability to reduce harmful car emissions and an uncertain supply situation, palladium trades for above $2,000/oz — making it more expensive per ounce than both gold and platinum.
Oil and Gas: Opposite Ends of the Spectrum
As key energy commodities, oil and natural gas have an inherent connection to one another.
However, in 2019, the two commodities had completely diverging performances:
Crude oil prices gained 34.5% on the year, making it one of the best commodities for investors — meanwhile, natural gas went the opposite direction, dropping 25.5% on the year. This actually cements gas as the worst performing major commodity of the decade.
“That’s Gold, Jerry!”
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that gold and silver had a bounceback year.
Gold gained 18.3% to finish with the best return the yellow metal has seen in a decade. Silver followed suit with a similar story, rallying 15.2% over the calendar year.
Precious metals now sit at multi-year highs against an interesting economic and geopolitical backdrop to start 2020.
Where do you see the above commodities ending up on next year’s edition of the rankings?
Breaking the Ice: Mapping a Changing Arctic
As the Arctic becomes more accessible due to reduced ice cover, countries with polar real estate increasingly viewing the region through an economic lens.
Breaking the Ice: Mapping a Changing Arctic
The Arctic is changing. As retreating ice cover makes this region more accessible, nations with Arctic real estate are thinking of developing these subzero landscapes and the resources below.
As the Arctic evolves, a vast amount of resources will become more accessible and longer shipping seasons will improve Arctic logistics. But with a changing climate and increased public pressure to limit resource development in environmentally sensitive regions, the future of northern economic activity is far from certain.
This week’s Chart of the Week shows the location of major oil and gas fields in the Arctic and the possible new trade routes through this frontier.
A Final Frontier for Undiscovered Resources?
Underneath the Arctic Circle lies massive oil and natural gas formations. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic contains approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and about 30% of its undiscovered natural gas resources.
So far, most exploration in the Arctic has occurred on land. This work produced the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field in Alaska, the Tazovskoye Field in Russia, and hundreds of smaller fields, many of which are on Alaska’s North Slope, an area now under environmental protection.
Land accounts for about 1/3 of the Arctic’s area and is thought to hold about 16% of the Arctic’s remaining undiscovered oil and gas resources. A further 1/3 of the Arctic area is comprised of offshore continental shelves, which are thought to contain enormous amounts of resources but remain largely unexplored by geologists.
The remaining 1/3 of the Arctic is deep ocean waters measuring thousands of feet in depth.
The Arctic circle is about the same geographic size as the African continent─about 6% of Earth’s surface area─yet it holds an estimated 22% of Earth’s oil and natural gas resources. This paints a target on the Arctic for exploration and development, especially with shorter seasons of ice coverage improving ocean access.
Thawing Ice Cover: Improved Ocean Access, New Trading Routes
As Arctic ice melts, sea routes will stay navigable for longer periods, which could drastically change international trade and shipping. September ice coverage has decreased by more than 25% since 1979, although the area within the Arctic Circle is still almost entirely covered with ice from November to July.
|Northern Sea Route||4,740 Nautical Miles||6 weeks of open waters|
|Transpolar Sea Route||4,179 Nautical Miles||2 weeks of open waters|
|Northwest Passage||5,225 Nautical Miles||Periodically ice-free|
|Arctic Bridge||3,600 Nautical Miles||Ice-free|
Typically shipping to Japan from Rotterdam would use the Suez Canal and take about 30 days, whereas a route from New York would use the Panama Canal and take about 25 days.
But if the Europe-Asia trip used the Northern Sea Route along the northern coast of Russia, the trip would last 18 days and the distance would shrink from ~11,500 nautical miles to ~6,900 nautical miles. For the U.S.-Asia trip through the Northwest Passage, it would take 21 days, rather than 25.
Control of these routes could bring significant advantages to countries and corporations looking for a competitive edge.
Competing Interests: Arctic Neighbors
Eight countries lay claim to land that lies within the Arctic Circle: Canada, Denmark (through its administration of Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
There is no consistent agreement among these nations regarding the claims to oil and gas beneath the Arctic Ocean seafloor. However, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides each country an exclusive economic zone extending 200 miles out from its shoreline and up to 350 miles, under certain geological conditions.
Uncertain geology and politics has led to overlapping territorial disputes over how each nation defines and maps its claims based on the edge of continental margins. For example, Russia claims that their continental margin follows the Lomonosov Ridge all the way to the North Pole. In another, both the U.S. and Canada claim a portion of the Beaufort Sea, which is thought to contain significant oil and natural gas resources.
To Develop or Not to Develop
Just because the resources are there does not mean humans have to exploit them, especially given oil’s environmental impacts. Canada’s federal government has already returned security deposits that oil majors had paid to drill in Canadian Arctic waters, which are currently off limits until at least 2021.
In total, the Government of Canada returned US$327 million worth of security deposits, or 25% of the money oil companies pledged to spend on exploration in the Beaufort Sea. In addition, Goldman Sachs announced that it would not finance any projects in the U.S.’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The retreat of Western economic interests in the Arctic may leave the region to Russia and China, countries with less strict environmental regulations.
Russia has launched an ambitious plan to remilitarize the Arctic. Specifically, Russia is searching for evidence to prove its territorial claims to additional portions of the Arctic, so that it can move its Arctic borderline — which currently measures over 14,000 miles in length — further north.
In a changing Arctic, this potentially resource-rich region could become another venue for geopolitical tensions, again testing whether humans can be proper stewards of the natural world.
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