Give them data and they will come

John Hronsky, principal of Western Mining Services
Jon Hronsky, principal of Western Mining Services, spoke on the future of exploration in his keynote address at this year’s PDAC convention.
New hunting grounds
New hunting grounds: exploration will need to focus on greenfields opportunities in covered terranes according to Hronsky. Photo by Steve Hill, Geological survey of South Australia

“If you are thinking about your exploration strategy for the next 10 to 15 years, the availability of pre-competitive data starts to become a first order factor.” – Jon Hronsky

Geoscience data is to exploration what road systems are to transport: a precompetitive asset that jurisdictions must provide if they hope to foster a viable and sustainable mining industry.

“Pre-competitive geoscience data will be essential as we move into the 21st century because in order to find deposits that really matter, you’ll have you look in areas where they are concealed,” says Jon Hronsky, principal of Western Mining Services and one of the preeminent minds in mineral exploration. “You will need data, especially airborne magnetic and gravity data, you can use to map and interpret the rocks under cover and come up with targets.”

The availability of pre-competitive data varies widely. Countries such as Australia and Canada are ahead of the pack, routinely supplying high level data that helps stimulate exploration. Uganda has released geoscientific research generated by the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) using financing from the World Bank and Nordic Development fund. More recently, Botswana announced it would provide multidisciplinary data and information via an online geoscience portal, a move applauded by key stakeholders and the exploration community. Since the portal launched in April, over 500 datasets have been downloaded from 26 countries.

But many jurisdictions are in danger of being left behind because their geology is hidden under cover and poorly understood. Or, they may have the necessary data, but keep it to themselves.

“Some governments want to ensure cost recovery on their spending, but that defeats the strategic purpose: to encourage investment and reduce the barriers to entry,” said Hronsky in an interview subsequent to his keynote address at the PDAC conference in Toronto on the future of exploration. “Providing geoscience data is one of the best investments a government can make in terms of return.”

Other trends Hronsky expects to emerge from an industry ripe with opportunities to improve:

The definition of prospective will change

The environmental and economic cost of the large, low-grade deposits that represent the bulk of recent development projects will be prohibitive. Instead, deeper higher-grade deposits with smaller ecological footprints will become viable as disruptive technologies such as deep drilling and robotic mining enter the market.

The type of cover will also be a determinant, with relatively thin veneers over stable basement rocks (e.g. Canada’s Superior Province) trumping intramontane covers of varying thicknesses in neotectonic areas such as the Andes.

The explorer skill set will evolve

The technical capabilities required for future exploration will differ from traditional techniques and the tools and skills companies have at hand will need to align with the type of deposits they seek.

Using technology wisely can be part of that solution, says Tim Dobush, CEO of Geosoft. “We should be asking: can we do more with the data before we put the first drill hole in the ground? Mining the vast amounts of existing public geoscience and ancillary data provides us with millions of dollars of realized exploration assets. With the right geological insights and software technologies, it’s an excellent starting point for any project generation programme.”

Exploration will become more collaborative

In countries where most of the landmass is covered in weathered sediments, government, academia and industry (explorers and service providers) are pooling their resources to “uncover” the next generation of economic mineral deposits.

Initiatives such as Australia’s Centre for Exploration Targeting (CET), Canada’s CMIC-Exploration Innovation Consortium (EIC) Footprints Project, and the Frank Arnott Award (a collaborative challenge to encourage new ways of integrating and visualizing exploration data) recognize the requirement for geoscientists to work together to improve exploration outcomes.

Credibility will improve

During a decade marked by high expenditures and few discoveries, investors lost faith in the industry’s ability to allocate exploration capital wisely. In order to rebuild trust, explorers will have to communicate a clear, technically sound exploration strategy to sophisticated risk capital.

That approach might require a middleman, such as a major company, willing to lend credibility to a group of carefully selected juniors in exchange for the opportunity to participate in discoveries.  Under this type of “project aggregator” model, the ability to manage and present data effectively to prospective investors will be essential.

A new era of prospectivity

Mineral exploration is entering a new era of shifting prospectivity, smarter use of technology, and better collaboration among geoscientists from the public and private sectors.  Jurisdictions willing to provide the data necessary to begin the search for buried deposits will reap the benefits of the next generation of mines.

“The availability of pre-competitive data starts to become a first order factor if we accept that we’ll have to find deposits under cover,” Hronsky says. “If other countries do not start investing in precompetitive research, you’ll see a return of exploration to jurisdictions where the information does exist.”




SkyTEM at Astana Mining & Metallurgy

SkyTEM was present at the Astana Mining & Metallurgy in Kazakhstan on 15-16 June 2016. Dr. Flemming Effersø, CEO of SkyTEM, gave a speech on how to employ airborne EM geophysics for environmental studies and mine operation. Special focus was put on how to protect groundwater resources when planning mine operations. Dr. Effersø gave examples of  how a SkyTEM survey allows concurrent mineral exploration and delineation of groundwater resources.


During the conference SkyTEM shared booth with our parttner, Aurora Minerals Group. The booth was well attended by delegates who wanted further information about SkyTEM for mineral exploration.


SkyTEM at Astana Mining & Metallurgy


This year the consortium of service companies “Aurora Minerals Group”, “Air Control” will conduct geophysical studies at the territory of the North-Kazakhstan and Karaganda regions.

Today, during the VII International mining and metallurgical Congress “Astana Mining and Metallurgy – 2016”, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Aurora Minerals Group, Said Sultanov told about the development prospects of geophysical research in Kazakhstan.

“In recent years, modern airborne geophysical technologies are widely used by subsoil users, in Kazakhstan. Today we can see that Kazakhstan has the entire world’s leading airborne geophysical survey companies offering services in aeromagnetic surveys and aero-gamma spectrometry, electromagnetic studies and interpretation of data. Aurora Minerals Group offers services for airborne geophysical research in partnership with Kazakhstan’s airline company “Air Control”. With the adoption of the Code on subsoil and subsoil use, we expect an increase of investors and investments in the field of geological exploration and more orders for our services, accordingly.”

This year Aurora Minerals Group (Consortium) will conduct geophysical studies to search for polymetallic and porphyry copper ores, in the North-Kazakhstan and Karaganda regions, with a total area of 36 000-line kilometers.

The research will be conducted on the Cessna 208 airplane, which has modern equipment that allows carrying out a comprehensive airborne geophysical survey using all technological applications in the field of airborne geophysics.

Within two special projects, the Kazakh specialists will be trained on planning airborne geophysical works and work on innovative equipment.


AMG_logoAurora Minerals Group is an Australian-Kazakhstan company dedicated to transferring new technology and stimulating investment into the Minerals and Energy sectors in Kazakhstan. AMG team consists of Kazakhstan and Australian professionals with extensive experience in the field of geology and subsoil use in the world’s large companies.

AC_logoAir Control – is one of the few in the world and only Airline Company in Central Asia, specializing in the implementation of unique aviation operations:

-Flight inspection services of the radio-navigational and lighting equipment at airports;

-Aerial photography by using the latest laser scanner and air-survey equipment;

-Airborne geophysical investigations using the most modern technologies.




About Kazakhstan MMC

The mining and metallurgical sector is one of the most competitive and dynamically developing industries of Kazakhstan. Almost 164.5 thousand people of key professions are engaged therein. Kazakhstan holds 30% of world resources of chromium ore, 25% of manganese ore and 10% of iron ore. Copper, lead and zinc resources constitute 10% and 13% of the world reserves, respectively. The total geological resources and predicted resources of coals in the Republic of Kazakhstan are estimated to be 150 billion tons. Thus, Kazakhstan holds the first place in the world according to explored reserves of zinc, wolfram and barite, second place according to its reserves of silver, zinc, chromites and uranium, third place for copper, fourth place for molybdenum, fifth place for cobalt, sixth place of gold and coal and eighth place for gold. Out of 105 elements of Mendeleev’s Table, 99 elements have been discovered in subsoil of Kazakhstan, 70 elements have been explored and over 60 elements have been involved in production.

The Republic is on the 13th place in the world among 70 mining states according to its production of solid mineral resources.

In the nearest future, the sector shall aim at stage-by-stage creation of new manufacturing in the metallurgical industry, production of high value-added products ensuring both, growth of output of high-technology products and expansion of its export to foreign markets and meeting of domestic needs.

In 2012, Kazakhstan MMC product output exceeded 2,817 billion KZT which is equivalent to 9.4% of the republican GDP. In this respect, the cost of products produced by the metallurgical sector constituted 1,935 billion KZT while the products of the mining industry in 2012 are estimated as 882 billion KZT.

Based on 2012, 36.8 percent of the product volume produced in the whole manufacturing industry of the country fell on the metallurgical sector.

An increase in the MMC production rate in Kazakhstan has been recently ensured by construction of new plants, growing capacities of operating enterprises and their reconstruction. For 2005 – 2011, the MMC overall investment volume constituted 2,026 billion KZT out of which 788 billion KZT was spent as investments related to non-ferrous metal ore production, 197 billion KZT for iron ore production, 362 billion KZT for ferrous metal production and 679 billion KZT for non-ferrous and noble metals.

In 2012 Kazakhstan produced 52,577 thousand tons of iron ore (+1.5% as compared to 2011), 38,353 thousand tons of copper ore (+11.2%), 4,806 thousand tons of copper-zinc ore (-1%), 5,170 thousand tons of bauxites (-5.9%), 2,942 thousand tons of manganese ore (-0.2%) and 5,233 thousand tons of chromium ore (+3.4%). The hard coal production volume in the Republic in 2012 constituted 107,253.7 thousand tons while brown coal was produced for 7,715.4 thousand tons.

According to the RoK Agency of Statistics, the ferrous alloy production in Kazakhstan in 2012 constituted 1,724 million tons (+3.3% as compared to 2011) out of which 1,305,566 tons of ferrochrome, 492 tons of ferrosilicon, 251,445 tons of ferrosilicon manganese and 164,854 tons of ferrochrome silicon. The crude steel production in the RoK in 2012 constituted 3.770 million tons (-21.6% as compared to 2011); in this respect, 2,373 thousand tons of flat-rolled products, 464,046 tons of galvanized steel sheets and 147,383 tons of tinned plate and tinned steel sheets and flat tin-coated steel.

In 2012 Kazakhstani enterprises producing non-ferrous and noble metals produced 958.4 tons of refined silver, 21.1 tons of refined gold, 250,269 tons of primary aluminum, 319,847 tons of zinc and 366,482 tons of refined copper.

Today, the mining and metallurgical complex of Kazakhstan is oriented at export of raw materials and primary metals. For example, the metallurgy percentage in the total export volume of the country in 2012 constituted 11.9 percent of the total export volume. Below are listed the main MMC exported products and countries importing such products.

As of January 1, 2013, the metallurgical sector of Kazakhstan includes 62 operating enterprises. In this respect, according to the Committee of Geology under the RoK Ministry of Industry and New Technologies, there are 1,115 subsoil users of common mineral resources, 241 subsoil users of solid mineral resources and 158 subsoil users abstracting ground waters registered in the Republic.

The largest MMC enterprises of Kazakhstan are:

ENRC is one of the world leading group in the sector of production and processing of mineral resources with integrated production, processing, energy and logistics enterprises.

Corporation Kazakhmys LLP is a fully integrated company whose activity covers all stages from ore production to commercial metal manufacturing. The primary company activity is copper production and sale. The copper production division also produces large volumes of other metals as by-products, such as zinc, silver and gold.
Kazzinc LLP is a large-scale integrated zinc producer with a significant percentage of concurrent production of copper, precious metals and lead.

ArcelorMittal Temirtau JSC is the largest enterprise in the mining and metallurgical sector of the Republic of Kazakhstan that is an integrated mining and metallurgical complex with its own coal, iron ore and source of power supply.

NAC Kazatomprom JSC is a national operator of Kazakhstan for export of uranium and its compounds, rare metals, nuclear fuel for nuclear generating stations, special equipment, technologies and dual-use materials.

Bogatyr Komir LLP is the largest dynamically developing company in Kazakhstan for open coal production. The Company covers 70% of the total coal produced in Ekibastuz coal basin.

Other large metallurgical enterprises of the Republic include Ust-Kamenogorsk Titanium-Magnum Integrated Plant JSC, Temirtau Electrometallurgical Integrated Plant LLP, Taraz Metallurgical Integrated Plant LLP, KSPSteel LLP and others.


Kazakhstan announces new mining laws

Kazakhstan has announced a new change to its current mining codes in a bid to encourage international investment.

Its prime minister, Serik Akhmetov, told the country’s Ministry of Industry and New Technologies to have the concept for a new Mining Code ready by July 1 to increase the country attractiveness to explorers.

Despite increased mining interest in Russia and the CIS nations, Kazakhstan has lagged behind other nations in terms of discoveries, with Akhmetov stating that the nation had not had any significant discoveries in more than two decades, with the last large-scale exploration programs carried out in the 1950s.

In its bid to attract these investors it is focusing on removing many of the bureaucratic procedures and roadblocks to geological information that currently exist.

Kazakhstan is also considering tax incentives for foreign investors.

Aset Isekeshev, Kazakhstan’s minister of industry and new technologies, said Rio Tinto is already looking to spend more than $13 million on exploration, whilst the government is looking to spend around USD$ 1 billion to fund increased exploration.

It is also developing a model based on Australian practices to attract increased exploration.

Earlier this year the Business Monitor rated Kazakhstan and Russia at the top of its Risk/Reward ratings “largely due to the substantial rewards on offer in these countries relative to other European players,” it said.

“We expect Kazahkstan’s coal production to reach 123 million tonnes by 2017, at an annual average growth rate of 2.1% from 2012. Our forecast is slightly below the government’s aim of achieving production capacity of 138mtpa by 2016 and up to 151mtpa by 2020. Most of the growth will come from Bogatyr Coal, as the company enters the third stage of developing its Bogatyr mine.”

Australian mining services companies Leussink Engineering and XT (formerly Xstrata Technologies) have already been operating in the country.

Lindsay Clark, GM for minerals processing at XT, said the company recognised the importance of Russia and the CIS regions, especially the potential of the future projects and expansions in these regions.

“We have been working in the region for some time, from our very first IsaMill in Kyrgyzstan Republic, to other recent IsaMill and Jameson Cell projects in Russia and Kazakhstan,” Clark said.

The country is holding a number of events, such as Minex Central Asia, in early April, the Astana Mining and Metallurgy Congress in early June (which will also host the World Mining Congress Organizing Committee), and MiningWorld Central Asia in mid-September in an effort to raise its profile.