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|MINERAL EXPLORATION 'The Function of Exploration Mineral exploration aims at locating the presence of economic deposits and establishing their nature, shape, and grade. As all ore bodies are finite, exploration is essentially the lifeblood of the mining industry. It is divided into two phases, reconnaissance and target investigation. It involves geological mapping, geophysical prospecting (aerial and ground or both), geochemical surveys, prospect drilling, and/or exploratory under-ground workings. Successful exploration is followed by development drilling, mine development, and eventually operation. In underground mining, the term "ore" is applied rather loosely to metalliferous rock that can be profit- ably mined, but nonmetallic industrial minerals and energy related materials constitute a large and growing portion of the tonnage extracted by underground methods each year. It is appropriate, therefore, to consider exploration as the search for any useful substance occurring in the earth or in the oceans that is of sufficient value as to volume, grade, chemical and physical com- position, and location as to make extraction by mining commercially profitable for the investment required. The Selection Process The search for ore includes hundreds of mineral commodities. The more successful exploration organizations tend to restrict the search to the mineral commodities for which they have strong exploration expertise and which have a high probability of being concentrated in areas open to exploration and development in sufficient volume, grade, and proximity to the surface to warrant the large expenditures of risk capital in finding an ore body. Special expertise is needed to engage in mineral exploration and development for the extended periods required for success. Individual prospectors continue to discover mineral occurrences, but it generally takes an organization with strong financial resources to carry the exploration process forward to the point of developing "ore." Still greater corporate resources in the form of management, engineering, and sales capability are needed to develop an ore body into an operating mine. In the past, companies other than those engaged in mining rarely conducted exploration, since they lacked the technical skills and know-how to bring a mine to fruition. A notable trend in recent years has been the success of other resource-oriented firms, such as petroleum companies, that have not only acquired the necessary skills to engage in exploration for hard minerals, but are doing so on a far more intensive scale than known in the industry heretofore. The desire to diversify from increasingly regulated oil and gas, the potential for the discovery of a bonanza, and the large scale of mining projects for these capital-intensive firms are the attractions. US government and certain international organizations, such as the United Nations, have fielded sizable exploration programs in the past decade on behalf of Third World countries wherein many of the world's higher grade deposits and scarce mineral resources are located. The level of overall mineral exploration in the industry is, regrettably, closely geared to the business cycle. Accelerated search during the periods of strong demand, shortages, and high prices, together with the long lead times necessary to develop mineral finds, often creates surges in supply which invariably are followed by a collapse in prices. The trend is, therefore, to exploration funding by larger better-endowed firms having the staying power to weather the cyclical nature of mining. Tax incentives, tariff policies, and other incentives have a decided impact on the level and nature of exploration. Surface mining regulations and environmental forces have fostered a renewed interest in under- ground development despite the lower average costs of surface mining. Spiraling inflation has caused mining costs to outpace prices for many mineral substances. Organizations increasingly are directing their search away from high- grade but limited tonnage occurrences toward low-grade disseminated bulk tonnages amenable to mining on a vast scale. Mining continues, therefore, to grow even more capital-intensive with half-billion-dollar mine-mill- smelter complexes now commonplace, compared with the hundred-million-dollar projects of a decade ago. Reconnaissance Exploration Having elected to search for specific mineral commodities, the exploration company narrows its focus to a reconnaissance of those regions offering the best potential. A working hypothesis which is constantly up- dated concerning the geologic controls for ore occurrence guides the search. The possibilities for discovery are best in areas of existing mines and known ore bodies, where the probabilities are high for additional ore occurrences. In such areas, published data on the trends and geologic controls of known mineral occurrences aid the search. Even in some remote territories, a variety of geologic data is available to the explorationist. The major sources of basic geologic data are the libraries of the US Geological Survey (USGS), the state geological surveys, the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), the US Bureau of Mines, and various institutions such as Colorado School of Mines. Overseas, virtually all of the countries have their own geologic survey groups which are associated directly, or indirectly, with their respective ministries of mines. The objective of reconnaissance exploration is to narrow the search by pinpointing target areas having interesting mineralization. These favorable areas are then investigated in detail to delineate potential ore bodies.|