The WA mining industry’s ability to thrive during COVID-19 has been underlined by mining exploration in the State hitting a five-year high. 

Figures released by the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety for July and August showed a 63 per cent increase on exploration applications and their processing compared to monthly averages for the past five years. 

In August, the department received 317 Programme of Work applications, with 99 per cent finalised within a new 15-business day target. 

Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said gold explorers were particularly active. 

“With the record high gold price, we are seeing that gold exploration accounted for 70 per cent of these applications, with base metals and iron ore the next most common targets,” Johnston said. 

“Congratulations to the department for finalising such a large number of applications. They continue to perform well within the halved timeframe…the timeframe reduction will have a direct benefit to the mining industry and as we can see it is already promoting economic activity in the regions.” 

The spike in exploration comes as the MinEx Cooperative Research Centre launches a “world-first” scientific drilling program to search for new mineral deposits in unexplored parts of Australia. 

The National Drilling Initiative, part of a collaboration with Geosciences Australia, will run over seven years and will look to areas of Australia where mineral resources may be poorly understood because prospective rocks are hidden below younger rocks, soils and sand. 

The NDI is not an exploration program in itself but aims to unearth “new evidence about the existence of mineralising systems for exploration companies to encourage them to take up the search.” 

New drilling technologies that will reduce the size of the drill site and lower water and energy usage will be employed in the work, which started this week in the East Tennant and South Nicholson areas of the Northern Territory. 

The program is then planned to expand to WA (in 2021), South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. 

“Without this pre-competitive work, explorers will invest their money elsewhere, most probably outside of Australia,” said MinEx CRC CEO, Andrew Bailey. 

 “Drilling is vital to mineral discovery; however, it’s also expensive and consumes significant energy and water. MinEx CRC seeks to push costs down and improve the safety and efficiency of drilling.” 

The MinEx CRC is the world’s largest mineral exploration collaboration bringing together industry, government and research organisations – including the likes of BHP, South 32, Sandvik, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.