Australia’s iron ore miners are unprepared for the massive exploration challenges ahead of them, BHP Billiton’s head of iron ore exploration has warned.
Speaking at the AusIMM iron ore conference in Perth on yesterday, BHP’s Joe Knight said current exploration methods would be unable to discover and define the quantity of new ore bodies needed to sustain the Pilbara’s soaring iron ore output.
The Pilbara is home to three of the world’s four largest iron ore miners — BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group — and exports almost 800 million tonnes of ore a year.
That figure is set to grow to about 965 million tonnes a year by 2017, Mr Knight said, based on the current publicly announced plans of the region’s miners and explorers.
At that rate, Mr Knight said, companies would struggle to replace their mined resources unless they evolved their approach to exploration, given the forecast annual production was the equivalent of more than three so-called “tier one” iron ore deposits.
“By 2017, as a geoscience group across all organisations, the Pilbara will require three ore bodies a year to effectively be discovered, evaluated, the geomet properties understood, the water and processing parameters understood, and so on … That’s the speed at which exploration, evaluation and mine planning is going to have to work at in the future just to meet what we’ve put out there in a public domain as a group of organisations,” he said.
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