Over the past few decades, the old adage “grade is king” has been gradually replaced with “big is king”. There are a number of justifiable (at the time) reasons for this but the end result is a global accumulation of generally large and low grade mineral occurrences. Compounding the grade-challenged character of many of these occurrences is the fact that they are increasingly discovered in geographically difficult locations, e.g. remote areas, high altitude, rain forest, adjacent to glacial ice, etc.
There are many mineral projects in a number of commodities that stand little chance of advancing to mining because the return characteristics and risk profiles will not justify the required capital expenditure, let alone any purchase price expectations on top of that. These projects cannot withstand the rigors of commodity price cycles and the tortuous, time-consuming and expensive pathway that must be navigated before they can become fully permitted, financed and socially accepted in today’s world.
Perhaps it’s not the case that the mineral exploration industry lacks discovery, but rather that we are discovering the wrong things. In addition, lack of technical and economic discipline too often means that these discoveries are drilled-out and even advanced through feasibility, when in reality the project should have been stopped early-on. This degrades exploration performance over the long run and wastes capital that could be deployed to discover higher-quality deposits.
In an urbanizing world that will continue to require increasing quantities of minerals and metals, there is an opportunity for well-managed mining and exploration companies to develop profitable enterprises by discovering and extracting high-quality mineral deposits. Our view is that this presents a major opportunity for mineral explorers to re-focus and learn how to target for and discover higher-quality deposits. Higher-quality does not necessarily imply smaller size, but in most cases it does imply higher grades and/or multiple metals.
Of course this is easy to say and not so easy to do. The challenge is to create conditions that generate, nurture and fuse a combination of skill, learning, discipline, luck and patience to achieve a discovery track record that delivers significant new wealth. Companies and exploration groups who accept this challenge and excel will be the mineral exploration success stories of the future.