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Invitation to the Future of Minerals Exploration

- By: John P Sykes
Posted in: Blog, Conferences, Exploration, Mineral Economics, Mineral Policy, Mining, PhD, Recommended, Strategy

Robot Arm

The mining problem

The period high commodity prices in the early 21st century has encouraged exploration for more mineral resources and attempts to develop new mines for most commodities. However, despite an apparent abundance of mineral resources in many commodities, the arrival of this new supply has often stalled. Increasingly mine projects are facing complex combinations of economic, environmental and socio-political problems during development. The failure to develop these mine projects has raised the question of what the parameters of viable mines will be in the long term future and what the general future of the industry holds. In addition, the recent downturn in the mining financial markets has squeezed capital funding for both exploration and mine project development.

The redundant thinking

Many people now assume there are abundant resources to develop for the long term future, however, the underlying questions surrounding what viable mines in the future may look like has not been resolved. Researchers, analysts and investors alike however often assume that the entirety of these abundant mineral resources will be developed, despite the evidence from mine project development problems that many mineral resources are currently sub-economic or environmentally or socio-politically unviable. In addition the fact that new mineral discoveries can be of higher quality than those previously discovered is often ignored. This case is particularly true when new discoveries leverage techno-scientific breakthroughs or innovations or benefits from major socio-political or economic changes. In this sense exploration is not about finding ‘more’ resources, but finding better quality resources.

The exploration opportunity

An opportunity exists for minerals explorers to bring about a new future for the mining industry, based on high quality mineral discoveries, leveraging new technologies and innovations, in line with evolving economic, environmental and socio-political ideals. Such a future would increase the availability of cheap mineral commodities to the global economy and increase economic margins within the mining industry, whilst limiting the environmental and socio-political impact of the industry. To do this however mineral explorers need a better understanding of what the world class mine of the future could look like, so that exploration programmes can be targeted appropriately towards these high quality mineral bodies. In addition, explorers will need to know how minerals exploration will be funded and conducted in the future.

A solution?

The complex interplay of geological, economic, environmental, socio-political and techno-scientific issues, however, means that simple predictive extrapolation from the present is unlikely to forecast an accurate view of the future of the mining industry. Similarly the nature of exploring the unknown often requires substantial re-framing of current views of what areas are prospective for discovery and those that are not. Simply exploring for what was previously found, and in the same way as before, will only lead to increasingly marginal discoveries as the current search space is depleted.

The Centre for Exploration Targeting is therefore running a series of scenario planning workshops in June 2016 investigating the future of minerals exploration, considering both the sorts of targets the explorers will be seeking (i.e. the mines of the future) and the potential technologies, methods and financial resources required to explore for them (i.e. the explorers of the future).

Scenario planning is a widely used tool across industry, government and academia for investigating complex interactions into the future. The methodology is generative in nature; aiming to re-frame current ideas and develop new hypotheses about the future of the industry and what to explore. In addition, scenario planning is a powerful tool for increasing industry engagement with outside voices. Two public workshops will be held in June 2016. The scenarios will be presented to CET and industry leaders, before public dissemination. The scenarios will use the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach.

Workshop objectives

  • Integrate geological, economic, environmental, socio-political and techno-scientific thinking about the future of the exploration and mining industry;
  • Generate new hypotheses about the mines of the future;
  • Generate new ideas about how exploration may be conducted in the future;
  • Increase communication across the mining and exploration industry;
  • Bring new perspectives from outside the mining community into the conversation about the future of the industry;
  • Increase engagement with voices outside of the mining industry;
  • Generate new research ideas about mining and exploration;
  • Develop a series of scenarios about the “Future of Minerals Exploration”;
  • Present the scenarios to industry leaders;
  • Publish the scenarios in appropriate industry and academic publications;
  • Consider other modes of disseminating the scenarios;
  • Build mining industry scenario planning and foresight capabilities for future research and strategy work.

Workshop details

The workshops are free to attend though places are limited, so apply now.


  • Centre for Exploration Targeting, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia


  • 15th-17th June 2016
  • 29th June-1st July


Required participants

Whilst these workshops are obviously attractive to professionals and academics in the minerals exploration sector, we are particularly enthusiastic about receiving applications from non-exploration academics and professionals who work in the mining industry (i.e. engineering, processing, tailings, closure, health & safety experts) and non-mining academics and professionals that nonetheless work in fields important to mining (such as environmental science, sustainable development, social licence, community engagement, law, business, politics, finance and economics).

Applicants do not necessarily need any prior knowledge of the mining industry, nor indeed do they need a favourable view of the mining sector.


To participate please email me at:

Ethics approval

Approval to conduct the “Centre for Exploration Targeting ‘Future of Mineral Exploration’ Scenarios Workshops” has been provided by the University of Western Australia with reference number RA/4/1/8064, in accordance with its ethics review and approval procedures. Any person considering participation in this research project, or agreeing to participate, may raise any questions or issues with the researchers at any time. In addition, any person not satisfied with the response of researchers may raise ethics issues or concerns, and may make any complaints about this research project by contacting the Human Ethics office at UWA on (08) 6488 4703 or by emailing to