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Digging Deeper: What is exploration?

In our new blog series – Digging Deeper – we put the spotlight on popular mining processes and what they mean for Anglo American and our host communities. We begin with the process of exploration, and examine the necessary stages involved. 

What is exploration? When we talk about it in relation to mining, it’s the process of discovering new deposits of the products we mine. It’s essential to our business, and provides the intelligence needed to inform where we break ground.

Let’s dig deeper and take a detailed look at the process of exploration.

Investigation and identification

Investigation and identification are the first activities of exploration where our teams seek out and identify areas that are geologically interesting. Then, we investigate further and see if we can find mineral deposits that we would want to mine.

An example of this may be to look for a certain type of mineral in a region and to then narrow down our search area by using existing data such as survey information. 

Once we have an idea of a specific area, we make sure we apply for the correct permits and access permissions both from the national government as well as local communities.

Preparation and analysis

It’s important that we consult with the local community to understand if there are any areas we cannot explore due to environmental or cultural sensitivities.

Once on-site, we need to perform geophysics surveys. Geophysics helps us see what’s underneath the ground surface using electronic or magnetic signals that pulse into the ground. Different types of rock provide different readings, all of which help us understand the buried geology better.

These surveys are either performed from the air using a helicopter, a specially adapted plane or sometimes our teams will walk with the equipment taking measurements such as our Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) - a magnetic field sensing devices that can detect and map a range of ore deposits. 

Sometimes, we may not find anything that we can investigate further so our team will leave the area as it was found and start looking elsewhere. 

First drilling

Before we start any work, we make sure that we have the correct permissions and consult with local communities to explain what we will be doing. We also make sure we are working in areas that will have as little disturbance to the environment as possible.

Depending on the local environment, we may need to bring our equipment in using trucks, boats, helicopters or sometimes mules. For all these different ways of transporting equipment and people, our teams always make sure that they perform detailed risk assessments to keep everyone safe and out of harm’s way.

With the increase in activities, there may be a few local job opportunities. The exploration project manager will work with the local community to discuss these.

When we begin our drilling activities we need to decide what type of drill to use. There are many types of drill rig that our teams use and it all depends on the type of rocks they are looking for and the ground conditions they are working in. The length of the drilling programme depends on the local geology and weather conditions.

Once the team has finished their work, they take their drill samples to a laboratory for further analysis. Only once they have the results of this analysis will they be able to determine if they will return to the area to continue.

If the results are good, we may move to advanced exploration.

Take a look at the exploration infographic, right, for a little bit more detail on advanced drilling and brownfield site exploration.

Advanced exploration

At this stage, the team are confident that they have found a discovery, but further testing is needed to see if there is a deposit which may transfer into the project phase.

Community consultation remains a key part of our activities and the project manager or community relations manager will be available to help answer any questions.

Our teams work in the area to perform more detailed studies and drilling. In this phase the team may bring in more equipment.

Planning starts during this phase of exploration and involves different teams thinking about the different aspects of the project like engineering, environment, project design and other specialised subjects.            

Digging Deeper will return in a month’s time: If you have any mining terms or process that you would like us to explore, please comment below.

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