The resources sector has been a winner for the Australian economy even during the market turmoil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government is keen for this to continue with its Exploring for the Future program now focusing on two new corridors that stretch across Australia.

Given that the value of iron ore exports alone reached $101.7bn in the 2019-20 financial year, it is not hard to see why Australia would pump in the additional funding, which was flagged in June, into the program.

The funds will be used to narrow down the location of new mineral, energy and groundwater resources in the two corridors.

“Geoscience Australia already has a good understanding of the two corridors’ geology, which suggests they both have potential for new discoveries of groundwater, conventional and unconventional oil and gas, and a wide range of minerals including gold, diamonds, base metals and critical minerals, such as rare earth elements and lithium,” Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said.

“The challenge for Exploring for the Future is to narrow down the location of the new mineral, energy and groundwater resources located along these corridors, which each run for thousands of kilometres through remote parts of Australia.”

The eastern corridor starts at the edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria and runs through Mount Isa in Queensland and down the borders of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

Meanwhile, the Western corridor starts just south of Darwin and straddles the borders of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia before finishing at the edge of the Great Australian Bight.


Sharing the exploration love with southern Australia

Pitt said that in addition to carrying out targeted activities along these corridors, Geoscience Australia would also lead the collection of large-scale data from across southern Australia over the next four years.

“The large-scale data from southern Australia will be combined with corresponding data from northern Australia, which was collected during the Exploring for the Future program from 2016 to 2020,” he said.

This new program is expected to replicate Geoscience Australia’s success in northern Australia.

“In its first four years, the program carried out more than 20 activities across 3 million square kilometres of northern Australia, including geophysical surveys, geochemical sampling, hydrogeological mapping and stratigraphic drilling,” Pitt explained.

“The majority of its $100m budget was spent on activities in regional and remote Australia. This included funding contract positions in the mining equipment, technology and services sector to support data collection and field work activities.”

Pitt added the program delivered a detailed picture of potential resources in northern Australia, including almost 250 new datasets that were now publicly available through the Exploring for the Future portal.

Already, 10 of the 14 companies that have taken up tenements in the areas that the program focused on have publicly recognised the role Exploring for the Future data played in their decision.

Earlier this month, the program identified an area east of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory could host mineral deposits worth up to $12.4bn.


Industry welcomes government support

The new investment has been welcomed by the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC), which said the program had demonstrated significant success over the past four years in identifying Australia’s resource potential in the north.

“This program will bring long-term benefits to Australia and will help to attract local and international investment to Australia helping our industry to bounce back quicker post-COVID-19, and support the economic recovery of the country,” AMEC CEO Warren Pearce said.

“The exploration industry underpins our resource sector and this program demonstrates the commitment of the federal government to support the mineral exploration industry, at a time when large parts of the mineral exploration have been hit hard by COVID-19.”