February 2013

The incentive to explore

Supporting greenfield exploration in Canada

By Dan Zlotnikov

Geoscience BC’s Quest project included airborne electromagnetic and gravity surveys between Williams Lake and Mackenzie in central British Columbia | Courtesy of Sander Geophysics

In a land mass as large as Canada, the ­toughest choice for explorers can be where to start. Yes, there is potential to strike it rich, but the odds favour striking out. So how do exploration companies hone in on those key spots that hold so much promise?

Part of the answer, says Nadim Kara, senior program director at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), is the availability of regional survey data. Kara, whose association is the national voice for the Canadian exploration industry, says “public geoscience investments can help focus industry investment and expertise in the most promising areas, improving the odds of success.”

One district that is attracting attention is the Quesnel terrane in B.C., where the QUEST regional surveys have been conducted by Geoscience BC since 2007. QUEST, which stands for “Quesnellia Exploration Strategy,” revealed secrets in the region where, according to Geoscience BC president and CEO ’Lyn Anglin, most of the rock outcrops were hidden under a thick layer of glacier cover, effectively dissuading most explorers. There were two projects – QUEST and QUEST West – which covered over 86,000 square kilometres of territory with airborne gravity and electromagnetic surveys. They collected over 3,200 new stream and lake sediment samples and re-analyzed more than 8,700 archived samples at a cost of some $10 million. The impact quickly became evident: a 2010 economic assessment conducted by ­Geoscience BC found around 1.2 million hectares of new staking, a 36 per cent increase over the pre-survey baseline. The first staking rush happened after the mere announcement of the planned surveys. The assessment also identified that between $8 million and $11 million had been spent on exploration in the two years from the start of the projects. And Anglin reports it is still going strong.

The survey has created very real benefits for companies working in the area – case in point: a joint venture between juniors Serengeti and Fjordland, aptly named “QUEST JV.” Xstrata optioned some of the joint venture land in 2011, and in a letter to shareholders this past January, Serengeti president and CEO David Moore announced that Xstrata was looking at drilling “an attractive target on one of the properties.”

Well-funded surveys are also making a big difference in Nunavut. The Melville Peninsula was selected as one of the projects under Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Geo-Mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) program, says Donna Kirkwood, director general of the Central and Northern Canada Branch at the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). From 2009 to 2011, GSC surficial mapping efforts covered some 53,000 square kilometres, and the 2010 field program yielded discovery of significant nickel and copper mineralization on the western side of the peninsula. Following the nickel find, Vale began exploration on the peninsula last year, establishing a 30-person camp with plans for a multi-year exploration program, should the first year yield positive results. Kirkwood says the freely available data generated by the GEM program was an important catalyst for Vale’s project.

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