The majors are investing huge dollars in Paterson Province exploration to find the next Tier 1 Winu or Haverion copper-gold discovery. The potential prize is massive as the WA region evolves from pure greenfields exploration into a development story.

Rio Tinto is now targeting first ‘staged’ production at Winu in 2023. The Newcrest-Greatland Gold JV is also looking to start an exploration decline at the huge Havieron project this year, ahead of first production in 2022-2023.

Encounter Resources (ASX:ENR) is the latest explorer to lock in a lucrative joint venture deal; this time with long-term partner and major shareholder Independence Group (ASX:IGO).

$3.1bn market cap miner Independence will sole fund ~$15m in exploration to earn 70 per cent of  Encounter’s early stage 1400sqkm Yeneena copper-cobalt project.

Encounter managing director Will Robinson says the Paterson province is a “highly fertile district” with enormous potential for new copper-cobalt discoveries under thin sand cover.

“This partnership with IGO is just what Yeneena needed,” he says.

“We look forward to continuing this exciting partnership with IGO to refine and test a number of large-scale copper-cobalt targets at Yeneena in 2020.”

READ: The Explorers — Encounter’s Will Robinson on how to find those big Tier 1 discoveries

Last week, explorer Antipa Resources (ASX:AZY) inked its second $60m JV deal in the Paterson, this time with Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM).

This followed an earlier $60m deal with Winu-finder Rio (ASX:RIO) over the Citadel project in 2015.

St George Mining (ASX:SGQ) recently kicked off early stage exploration at its Paterson project, secured in December last year.

Exec chairman John Prineas told Stockhead the explorer got the jump on major mining companies “that have since approached us to sell or JV the ground”.