A trio of GNS Science speakers dominated the first plenary session on the Sunday opening day of the 2016 AusIMM New Zealand Branch Conference, unveiling the new digital QMap system. By NEIL RITCHIE.
GNS Science’s Tony Christie launched his New Zealand Minerals Monograph 31, due to be published in November; GNS head of department (regional geology) Rob Smillie introduced next generation mapping techniques; and GNS geoscientist Rose Turnbull talked about the results of a national geochemical baseline study and the implications for minerals exploration and environmental management.
Christie said his 55-page monograph, the fifth edition since 1965, summarised mining exploration and research around the country from 2006 but also contained much historical data. This latest monograph has 112 authors, 77 reviewers covering 66 papers in all, several of which have not been published before.
Smillie introduced delegates to GNS’ new digital QMap system, using computer simulation of data to move into three-dimensional (3D) presentations, mapping geology with topography, and helping see subsurface features not necessarily seen in the 1960s.
About a third of the country had been covered so far, with some of the most recent aerial geological and geophysical surveys covering Nelson and Marlborough. “A bigger picture … a fantastic future is starting to emerge.”
But he noted all the new QMap was still available in “good old fashioned” hard copy maps as well.
Turnbull, with GNS in Dunedin, said the Crown Research Institute had been developing a baseline soil sampling survey, mapping the results of chemical and soil analysis from about 340 sites in the pilot programme. She hopes a countrywide survey, likely to cost several million dollars, can be undertaken.
And, as well as being used by the resources sector, including looking for specific prospective mining targets, she hopes the chemical results of a nationwide survey will also provide a baseline for ongoing environmental management projects. Integration of the survey results with the QMap and regional geophysical data offered broader and potentially greater benefits.
Auckland University’s Julie Rowland closed the initial plenary session, speaking on structural controls on ore-shoots in intermediate to low sulfidation vein-style epithermal gold and silver deposits.
And this plenary session – entitled “Information to Underpin Mineral Exploration” – was one of the less technical sessions of the day.
The second plenary session of the day featured a dozen or so research presentations by various post-graduate students from universities around the country.
Monday featured various overviews on the state of the country’s minerals industry, with all keynote speakers talking of subdued industry activity during the past year or so, though they also indicated more positive outlooks for the future, saying things were already starting to improve.
Campbell Macpherson director Tony Haworth reviewed the past 18 months of the international resources sector, saying that commodity prices had stabilised and were now showing signs of improvement.
For the minerals industry, gold had been the “star performer” during the first half of 2016, outperforming all the base metal commodities, having traded in a range of $1800 to $1900 per ounce in recent months.
Globally, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) were down to a decade low of US$40 billion and during 2015 there were only 13 initial public offerings (IPOs) for new companies, totalling about US$300 million. Capital raising had been slow so far this year.
Gold remained the key target globally and was being “chased the hardest’’ around the world but much of the global US$9 billion being spent this year actually paled into comparison when compared to the total US$20 billion spend of 2012.
Grass-roots exploration was out of favour, coal and iron ore were still in the doldrums and China demand was lifting but was still subdued.
OceanaGold, which now owns the Waihi mine, was producing more than 90 percent of our annual gold production, delivering about 408,000 ounces itself last year. But small alluvial gold companies had increased production 17 percent last year, contributing 42,000 ounces.
However, New Zealand’s current reserves-to-production ratio of 12 “puts us well below key gold producers” and “further investment is required to improve long-term sustainability of NZ operations”, he cautioned.
Coal production was plunging by 15 percent to 3.4 million tonnes per annum, and exports were decreasing 21 percent to 1.4 million tonnes. And “underground mining is almost extinct”. There were also 400,000 tonnes of coal imports, however, in the last year or so.
Annual iron sand production, of about 3.2 million tonnes, included about two million tonnes of exports. Aggregate production declined 14 percent from its 2014 high to 30 million tonnes in 2015.
Overall minerals production was down by about eight percent and, while this seemed sobering, mining had roughly doubled its contribution to the economy in real terms since 1966, with coal and aggregates declining but metals, in particular gold, climbing from just 8,900oz in 1966 to about 450,000 ounces last year.
However, he noted the “collapse’’ of lime production for agriculture, on the back of the dairy downturn, down 50 percent to less than one million tonnes per annum.
But he added iron sands and phosphate production from sea bed mining held opportunities for the longer term, and, while coal was currently out of favour, it would still be around for some time.
Looking ahead, he added that new technology might make controversial lignite an acceptable energy source. He also noted “new minerals for the global green economy”, such as lithium for new generation batteries, could attract further investment and work by Crown Research Institutes.
And the Fraser Institute placed New Zealand’s overall attractiveness as an investment destination improving from 48th to 44th among 109 countries.
National manager for government permitting agency New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals (NZP&M) Ilana Miller had a “positive outlook” for the industry, largely on the back of gold, but cautioned new discoveries were the key for the long term.
“There’s a need to identify greenfield resources − to create a pipeline for sustained growth,” she said.
NZP&M had completed 25,000 square kilometres of aero-magnetic surveying over Nelson and Marlborough, and 5200 square kilometres over Otago and Southland, with interim data out now. The aeromagnetic surveys of north Otago and south Canterbury were due to start in September, with results expected by about mid-2017.
She also spoke of the increasing usage of online permit applications and associated work, saying last year 24 percent of permits were done electronically and that had risen to 34 percent during 2016. “The more [applicants] that take up that system, the more efficient we can be.”