The MSDP, which concluded earlier this month in the northern Eyre Peninsula, was a world-first collaboration between the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC) and many of its participants and affiliates, including the Geological Survey of South Australia; mineral explorers Minotaur Exploration and Kingston Resources; service companies Boart Longyear, Imdex, Globaltech, Olympus, Epslog and Bureau Veritas; and researchers from CSIRO and Adelaide and Curtin Universities.
Over nine months, 14 holes and almost 8km of drilling, the MSDP both tested DET CRC's new technologies and uncovered valuable geological information on the eastern Gawler Craton Olympic copper-gold province.
Chief executive of DET CRC, Richard Hillis, said: "DET CRC's focus was to trial its new technologies in a real-world drilling programme in order to speed their transition from the lab to commercial products.
"Australia's share of mineral exploration expenditure has halved from approximately one quarter to one eighth of the world's total in the last 25 years. The decline in exploration expenditure has paralleled the decline in the discovery of major new mineral deposits in Australia.
"Decreasing mineral exploration success and expenditure in Australia reflect the fact that relatively easy-to-find mineral deposits with a surface expression have largely been discovered. New mineral exploration provinces must be found hidden beneath barren cover rocks, such as those covering hidden deposits in the Gawler Craton.
"The new technologies we successfully tested will enable the industry to search more efficiently and effectively beneath barren cover."
The technologies developed by DET CRC that were trialled during the MSDP can deliver real-time information during a drilling programme, which in-turn enables real-time decision-making. The technologies trialled included the following.
- Wireless sub - monitors drilling parameters, such as the downward force on the drill bit, enabling them to be analysed at the drill site and remotely in order to optimise drilling performance and maximise productivity.
- Fluid management system - provides real-time information on the chemistry of the drilling fluids and facilitates maintaining these fluids in the optimal condition for efficient drilling.
- AutoSonde with gamma sensor - provides geophysical wireline log-type data on the nature of the rocks intersected in drill holes without separate mobilisation of a wireline logging crew or additional time requirements at the drill site. The AutoSonde is deployed into the hole by the driller and analyses the rocks intersected as the drill rods are pulled out of the hole.
- AutoShuttle - deployed downhole by the driller in a similar way to the AutoSonde and acquires data while drilling is progressing. It is ‘shuttled' to and from the surface (with its recorded data) every time the core barrel is retrieved, typically every three metres.
- Lab-at-Rig - provides near real-time XRF geochemistry and XRD mineralogy on drill cuttings, allowing greater confidence in assessing the prospectivity of the drill core.
According to DET CRC, all results can be monitored remotely and permit ongoing analysis of the drilling programme, informing decisions such as whether to terminate or extend drill holes or whether to modify the location or trajectory of subsequent holes.
Drill holes can be analysed by experts remotely, and where encouraging results are encountered, follow-up holes drilled immediately, without the great cost of demobilising drill rigs and crews, waiting months for analyses, then remobilising back to remote locations.
Mineral resources minister Tom Koutsantonis said real-time exploration is a breakthrough that will change the way the resources sector conducts exploration and mining.
He commented: "Real-time analysis allows people in the field to make decisions then and there. People in boardrooms can be analysing this data, making decisions about where the next hole will be and how to invest those vital exploration dollars.
"This is a game changer for mining and is being developed right here in South Australia."
The South Australian government has backed the DET CRC's approach to exploration with an investment of A$2.5 million (US$1.8 million) from their Plan for Accelerating Exploration (PACE) Frontiers programme. An additional A$1 million was provided by Minotaur Exploration, Kingston Resources and DET CRC. In-kind support from the many parties involved in the project leveraged the A$3.5 million cash into an A$8 million programme.