Need for new data on metal deposits deep underground

Mining of metals such as nickel, copper, zinc, silver and gold provide significant economic and social benefits to the state.

High-tech metals including platinum, cobalt and lithium are also key to many emerging advanced-technology industries, such as the manufacture of smart phones and renewable energy technologies. These metals play an important role in our modern and smart, sustainable energy way of life.

It is unlikely there are any significant new metal deposits left to discover at the surface in NSW. New data needs to be collected to enable the detection of metal deposits that may exist deeper underground.

Collecting new data on metal deposits and groundwater resources

To determine whether economically valuable metal systems lie deep beneath the Earth’s surface in the state’s central and far west, the Geological Survey of NSW (GSNSW) is taking part in one of Australia’s largest geological research projects.

Part of the MinEx Cooperative Research Centre’s (MinEx CRC) National Drilling Initiative (NDI), the project aims to map regional geology and structure and define the potential for metal systems around Cobar, Broken Hill (Mundi), Dubbo and Forbes. It also aims to discover any previously unknown groundwater resources in these areas.

The five NDI areas are show in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: NDI areas

These areas were chosen because they have similar rocks to areas that host metal deposits close to the surface, and it is believed they may hold economically valuable metal systems deeper underground (up to 500m).

Scientists will undertake geological mapping, data acquisition and drilling programs in these areas from 2019 to 2028, avoiding sensitive areas such as state significant aquifers and national parks. Drilling is not planned until 2022.

The project will take a staged approach beginning with data acquisition within the South and North Cobar NDI areas in early 2019.

For more detailed information on the project see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) below.

Declaration of new Mineral Allocation Areas

To enable a fair and transparent assessment of exploration applications the Governor of NSW has declared five new Mineral Allocation Areas (MAAs) covering the areas where the NDI activities are taking place.

The new MAAs prevent the application or granting of exploration licences for metals without the consent of the Minister for Resources. They ensure only high-quality explorers, with strong records of community engagement and environmental compliance, can secure new exploration licence while the research is taking place.

The declared areas are (follow the link to view in MinView):

The declaration of these new MAAs will ensure that the state leverages the best outcome from its investment in MinEx CRC. They do not have any influence on decisions about future mining.

Community consultation

Government will consult relevant landholders, local communities and government agencies before and during major activities in each NDI area.

Local communities, business owners and landholders will be able to find out more about MinEx CRC activities taking place in their area during drop-in sessions in local town centres. The dates and venues of these sessions will be posted to this website as they are confirmed.

Landholders and landholder interest groups who are directly impacted by MinEx CRC activities will also be consulted individually, either through face-to-face meetings or via telephone.

The MinEx Cooperative Research Centre (MinEx CRC) is the world’s largest mineral exploration geoscience collaboration. It is a 10-year, $220 million collaboration between Federal and State Governments, the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation, leading Australian universities and the minerals industry. It aims to reveal the covered geology of the Australian continent to aid mineral exploration. The MinEx CRC will develop cheaper, more environmentally friendly drilling methods and new sensing technologies for real-time data, as well as delivering new data on areas of the Australian continent where the geology is currently poorly understood.

The National Drilling Initiative (NDI) is one of the programs being undertaken by the MinEx CRC. This project will manage and deliver drilling programs in multiple areas across Australia. It aims to map regional geology and structure and define the potential for mineral systems. The Department of Planning and Environment’s Geological Survey of NSW (GSNSW) is a major participant in the NDI, committing $16 million to the program over 10 years.

In NSW, the project focusses on five New Frontier areas in the state’s central and far west, where Group 1 minerals (metals) are believed to exist hidden under a layer of barren geology. These areas, North Cobar, South Cobar, Mundi, Forbes and Dubbo, avoid sensitive land, such as state significant aquifers and national parks.

The data collected by the NDI will provide new information about the geology, metal potential and groundwater resources of these areas.

Scientists will collect data deep underground to better understand the geology and assess the metals potential of each area. They will also look to define groundwater resources that may exist.

Several types of information will be collected, using:

  • traditional geological mapping

  • geophysics

  • cutting-edge geochemical and isotopic analysis in laboratories

  • chemical analyses of water from existing waterbores

  • drilling.

  • Mining metals has been key to the development and prosperity of NSW for more than 150 years, and still provides significant economic, social and environmental benefits to the state.

    However, it is unlikely there are any significant new metal deposits left to discover at the Earth’s surface across NSW. For the state to continue to benefit from the safe and sustainable development of these resources, new data needs to be collected on metals that may exist deeper underground.

    Similarly, groundwater for agriculture and community use has traditionally come from river floodplains, springs and waterbores. Information collected in this project could potentially discover buried aquifers and fractured rock reservoirs.

    Data collection methods will be tailored to each National Drilling Initiative (NDI) area. Activities may include:

  • acquisition of geophysical data appropriate to the area (e.g. aeromagnetic and radiometric, gravity or airborne electromagnetics)

  • geological mapping

  • drilling

  • logging, sampling and analysis of new and existing drill core and chips

  • biogeochemistry and sampling and analysis of waterbores.

    Drilling will occur through younger geology at the surface into the underlying basement geology, which may hold economically valuable metal systems. It will be undertaken on a regional-scale grid (nominally 5 x 5 km). The grid will avoid environmentally and culturally sensitive land and areas that have been drilled previously. Drilling is planned across the NDI areas between 2022 and 2026 but will only begin once signed land access agreements are in place.

  • Although conventional drilling methods may be used, new low-cost Coiled Tubing (CT) drilling technology, and associated sensing, will be used where possible. The benefits of CT drilling include:

  • The volume of data collected is maximised.

  • The drill rig has a much smaller environmental footprint than comparable conventional drill rigs and does not require in-ground sumps.

  • It is safer than conventional drilling methods because there is no manual handling of drill rods and less exposure to rotating parts.

  • Data collection will be undertaken on an area-by-area basis from 2019 to 2028, beginning with the South and North Cobar National Drilling Initiative areas in early 2019. Drilling is not planned until 2022.

    Group 1 minerals are a group of metals defined by law. Although these metals are found throughout the Earth’s crust, it is rare to find them in naturally formed economically viable concentrations – known as mineral deposits. These deposits can consist of a variety of minerals containing valuable metals such as nickel, copper, zinc, silver and gold.

    Group 1 minerals include many high-tech metals, including rare earth elements, platinum, cobalt and lithium. These are key to emerging advanced-technology industries.

    See the full list of Group 1 minerals.

    A Mineral Allocation Area (MAA) is land declared by the Governor of NSW that prevents the application or granting of exploration licences (for specified minerals) without the consent of the Minister for Resources.

    In August 2018, five new MAAs (for metals) were declared in NSW. They are known as the:

  • Dubbo MAA

  • Mundi MAA

  • Forbes MAA

  • North Cobar MAA

  • South Cobar MAA.

    These MAAs can be viewed and GIS data downloaded in MinView (minview.geoscience.nsw.gov.au).

  • The NSW minerals industry provides significant economic, social and environmental benefits to regional communities across the state.

    The industry makes a major contribution to the state's economy in terms of business activity, investment, regional development and job creation. The revenue from royalties paid to the state by industry was $1.8 billion in 2017-18, which supports the provision of essential services like schools, hospitals and transport. The minerals industry is also a major regional employer, generating many thousands of jobs which help underpin social and economic wellbeing in regional NSW.

    If the data collected through this project shows potential for economically viable metal deposits, this could help grow surrounding regional economies and create jobs for local communities.

    In addition, the project will look to discover any previously unknown groundwater resources. This could increase water security for local farmers and property owners. Chemical analysis of pumped water from existing waterbores will also be undertaken to help farmers understand the water quality of aquifers on their land.

    The declaration of the new Mineral Allocation Areas (MAAs) does not mean they are being turned into mining reserves. Rather, the MAAs prevent new exploration licence applications for metals without consent from the Minister for Resources.

    The MAAs will enable assessment of industry exploration licence applications in a fair and transparent manner to attract high quality explorers with a strong track record of community engagement and environmental compliance. This will deliver the best possible results for regional communities and industry.

    If economically viable metal resources are discovered, a rigorous assessment process, including an environmental impact assessment and extensive public consultation process, is required by law before a mining lease can be granted and development begins.

    It is important to note that less than 1 in 300 metal exploration projects lead to an operating mine.

    Learn more about the exploration to mining operation process on the NSW Government’s Common Ground website (commonground.nsw.gov.au).

    Government will consult affected landholders, local communities and relevant agencies before and during major activities in each Mineral Allocation Area (MAA).

    Local communities, business owners and landholders will be able to find out more about MinEx CRC activities taking place in their area during drop-in sessions in local town centres. Scientists will be available to discuss the project at these sessions.

    Landholders and landholder interest groups will be consulted individually, either through face-to-face meetings or via telephone. Affected landholders and business owners will also receive prior written notifications on project activities affecting them.

    Local councils, community groups (i.e. local aboriginal councils) and other community leaders will be consulted throughout the project via face-to-face meetings.

    An online information hub has been created to provide information, project updates, fact sheets and contact details.

    This hub can be found at www.resourcesandgeoscience.nsw.gov.au/minexcrc.

    Alternatively, stakeholders can call the Division of Resources and Geoscience on 1300 736 122 or email: minex.crc@planning.nsw.gov.au.

    FAQs - Landholders

    Planned activities will differ between land-holdings. For most impacted landholders, on-site activities will be limited to geological mapping and water bore sampling. Where drilling is proposed, land access agreements will be negotiated with the landholder. No on-ground work will be conducted without landholder permission. Drilling will provide landholders with information on the geology and ground water below the surface of their property.

    Airborne geophysical surveys will also be conducted over the Mineral Allocation Areas. Notice of these surveys will come via mail, advertisements in local newspapers, social media and through landholder and community information sessions.

    Drilling will be conducted using the same rigorous regulations and environmental controls as industry programs, so the chances of any adverse groundwater impacts is low. All drilling activities will adhere to the NSW Resources Regulator’s Exploration Code of Practice: Environmental Management and will be monitored by the NSW Resources Regulator and the Division of Resources & Geoscience’s Resource Operations Unit.

    Drilling contractors will be licenced by WaterNSW where required and activities will be conducted in-line with water drilling advice from the Department of Industry (Lands and Water Division).

    No drilling work will take place without landholder permission.

    Drilling will be conducted using the same regulations and environmental controls as industry programs and this will be monitored by the NSW Resources Regulator. A review of environmental factors and a rehabilitation plan will be prepared prior to drill site selection.
    All drill sites will be rehabilitated to pre-drilling condition, as per the Guideline for mineral exploration drilling. Rehabilitation will be monitored by the Resources Regulator.
    Yes. Government will consult with local aboriginal councils, and aboriginal heritage impact assessments will be undertaken using qualified consultants, where required.
    Environmentally sensitive areas will be identified using the NSW Government’s Sharing and Enabling Environmental Data Portal (SEED). The SEED Portal provides evidence-based information about environmental factors across the state.
    No. The project is focused on improving our understanding of the geology for metals exploration and groundwater resources only. The Mineral Allocation Areas have no potential for coal or coal seam gas.

    Landholder consultation is a key part of the project communications strategy. This will include direct contact via mail (including fact sheets), information sessions, an online information hub and social media.

    Landholders will be informed of any airborne geophysical programs before flying begins and no on-ground work will be done without landholder permission. For low impact activities such as geological mapping and water bore sampling, permission will be sought verbally by telephone or in person. In the case of drilling, land access agreements will be prepared and signed before activities begin.

    The studies will have direct benefits to landholders. For example:

  • Geological mapping will help identify different rock and soil types, including chemical composition, and will identify potential erosion and water run-off issues.

  • Water-bore sampling will provide chemical breakdowns of water from bores and will help inform regional groundwater studies.

  • Airborne geophysical programs will collect data used to interpret geology and any groundwater below the surface.

  • Drilling will provide information to support interpretation of the geology and ground water.

  • The data collected will provide some certainty by informing landholders if further exploration activity on their property is likely.

    All information collected will also be made available to the community.

  • Landholders have control over activity on their land. Landholders will be contacted prior to airborne geophysical surveys to ensure there are no issues regarding livestock. Any on-ground activity, such as geological mapping or water bore sampling, is dependent on landholder permission. Any drilling would be conducted only after a land access agreement has been signed.
    To contact a member of the project team call the Division of Resources and Geoscience on 1300 736 122 or email: minex.crc@planning.nsw.gov.au.

    FAQs - Industry

    The declaration does not mean mineral explorers will be ‘locked out’ of these areas until 2028. The Department has established a working group to develop a fair and transparent process for future applications for Group 1 mineral exploration licences. Only high-quality explorers, with strong records of community engagement and environmental compliance, will be granted a licence. Licences can only be granted with the consent of the Minister for Resources.

    Valid exploration licence applications within the MAAs lodged prior to 10 August 2018 will be processed as normal.

    Expressions of interest will be sought to improve the coverage of regional geophysical acquisition programs (e.g. magnetics, radiometrics, gravity and airborne electro-magnetic surveys).

    Where drilling is planned on an existing exploration licence, the holder will be approached at the planning stage to discuss a drilling agreement. A standard drilling agreement will be formulated in collaboration with industry, to ensure consistency and transparency. The results of other acquisition activities (e.g. geophysics, mapping and geochemistry) will be publicly released as soon as possible.

    Reporting and renewal requirements for existing Group 1 and non-Group 1 mineral titles within the Mineral Allocation Areas are unaffected.
    The Mineral Allocation Areas only apply to Group 1 minerals. Applications for other mineral groups are unaffected.

    Data from NSW National Drilling Initiative projects will be made publicly available via the NSW MinEx CRC online information hub to ensure all parties have access.

    General information about the MinEx CRC and information about other MinEx CRC projects is available from the MinEx CRC website.

    Data from NSW National Drilling Initiative projects will be released on the NSW MinEx CRC online information hub as soon as practicable after quality assurance checks.

    This hub can be found at www.resourcesandgeoscience.nsw.gov.au/minexcrc.

    More information

    For more information call the Division of Resources and Geoscience on 1300 736 122 or email minex.crc@planning.nsw.gov.au.