New South Wales has some unique advantages when it comes to mining mineral resources – infrastructure, access to grid power, a skilled labour force and a supportive government, just to name a few. In the lead up to the 8th annual Mining NSW Conference, Mark Arundell, Principal Geologist from IMEX Consulting joined us for a chat. Here he talks about exploration, land access and future government plans for mining in NSW.
Exploration in NSW is unique due to the close proximity of mineral resources to existing population centres and alternate land uses. In your experience, what are some of the opportunities and challenges this offers exploration companies?
Mark: Infrastructure and access to a skilled labour force in NSW are undoubtable major assets. Access to grid power is not possible in many areas of NT, WA or SA but readily available in many places in NSW. Having people live in local towns saves building camps and also contributes significantly to the local economy. There is a perception that mining, particularly coal in the Hunter Valley, is encroaching and destroying other industries such as vineyards and the horse racing industry. Demonstrating that these industries can work together and support each other is potentially one of the industries greatest challenges.
Minerals in NSW are owned by the Crown and are excluded from property deeds. In terms of land access, what is the biggest issue facing explorers at the moment?
Mark: Access to land is critical not just for exploration but for mining in the future. The NSW government has recently announced changes to access for Crown Land that will facilitate exploration in a number of areas that previously were unworkable due to onerous conditions imposes by the Lands Department. Public perception that farmers have little rights compared with big mining companies is a fallacy which the industry needs to address. Negative publicity regarding coal seam gas and coal exploration has affected mineral exploration. Property owners need more education on what the stages of exploration are and what the surface disturbance associated is associated with each of these stages.
Statistics show that investment in minerals exploration in NSW has fallen by around one third. What are some of the impediments currently and what are some of the strategies to encourage exploration in the region?
Mark: The lack of risk finance is an obvious issue but the perception of NSW as being a risky place to explore has been highlighted in the last twelve months by NSW government decisions tracking “spot fire” public opinion. Knowing the “rules” (whatever they are) and the “rules” not changing at the drop of a hat (or an unfavourable opinion poll) enables certainty for investment for companies. Recent announcements from the NSW government like that mentioned above for Crown Lands are going some way to correct this perception.
What are your thoughts on the establishment of the Minerals Taskforce by the NSW Government to develop a Minerals Industry Action Plan? In your opinion, what are some of necessary initiatives needed to ensure the long term viability of the minerals industry and boost the State’s economy?
Mark: The MIAP is unquestionably an excellent idea. To know where we want to be, we need to get a clear picture of where we are now and then develop a road map to get to where we want to be in the future. Initiatives that will attract industry participation in the state need to encompass “catch up” (like the drill co-funding) and more innovative projects. Personally, for minerals, I would like to see the Geological Survey NSW focus more time on a mineral systems study of the porphyry Cu-Au terrains (Cadia, Northparkes, Lake Cowal). These terrains are where the major deposits (excluding Broken Hill) are and it is over 15 years since any regional holistic study has been done on them. Major companies have been exploring in NSW during this time and a large amount of new data is now available to the Geological Survey which with collaboration with local universities could assist in fingerprinting where new deposits could be discovered.
There is no doubt your role in IMEX Consulting keeps you extremely busy, particularly dealing with both domestic and international clients all over the world. What are some of the highlights and what is upcoming in the pipeline?
Mark: Industrial minerals tend to be less subject to the whims of the market fluctuations we see with base and precious metals. However, establishing a market (e.g. client) is generally more important that making a “discovery” of an unloved product.
The Hillview vermiculite/platinum project has been a real eye opener. It seems that the Fifield ultramafic Belt had an initial rush of discovery in the 1980’s but little has happened since. The excellent work performed by Rimfire Pacific at Sorpresa and Platina at Owendale illustrates the enormous potential in this area.
IMEX is mostly focused on the evaluation of potash projects. Currently we are assisting the metallurgical evaluation of a glauconitic greensands deposit in NZ. Nova Scotia in eastern Canada is a major focus for conventional potash work and we see this area as an outstanding opportunity for potash exploration.
Mark will be speaking at the 8th annual Mining NSW Conference, taking place on 26th and 27th August at the Orange Ex-Services Club. He will be giving a more detailed update of the Hillview Vermiculite Deposit.
Join Mark and fellow mining industry stakeholders at this highly anticipated regional industry event. For more information about the conference program and to register, please visit the Mining NSW Conference website.
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