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Exploration involves the search for new ore occurrences or undiscovered oil or gas, and/or appraisal intended to delineate or greatly extend the limits of known deposits of minerals or oil or gas reservoirs by geological, geophysical, geochemical, drilling or other methods. This includes construction of shafts and adits primarily for exploration purposes, but excludes activity of a developmental or production nature.
Most of the expenditure between 1998-99 and 2002-03 was related to exploration for gold (table 16.15). In this period, gold exploration expenditure accounted for 52-58% of total mineral exploration expenditure. Its decline from $486.1m to $378.4m (down 22.2%) was the main contributing factor to the fall in mineral exploration expenditure. Expenditure on selected base metals, diamonds and uranium fell by $34.6m (19.6%), $11.1m (27.1%) and $8.5m (55.2%) respectively. The greatest increase recorded for this period was for coal exploration, up $38.0m (95.2%). Increases were also recorded for mineral sands (up $8.3m or 43.7%) and iron ore (up $2.9m or 7.0%).
Table 16.16 shows the overseas exploration expenditure reported in the Minerals Industry Surveys undertaken by the Minerals Council of Australia for 1998-99 to 2002-03. The surveys cover Australian mining companies, and some overseas controlled companies. Findings from these surveys indicate total overseas exploration expenditure by Australian businesses had been falling after reaching its peak in 1997-98 when $450.2m was spent. Between 1998-99 and 2002-03 expenditure fell by 59.0%. This mainly reflected the fall in exploration expenditure for gold and platinum which accounted for most of the overseas exploration expenditure in the earlier years. By 2002-03 expenditure overseas on gold and platinum exploration was only 15.7% of the level achieved in 1998-99. Gold and platinum's share of total overseas exploration expenditure declined from 42.5% in 1998-99 to 16.3% in 2002-03, below base metals' share of 45.8%.
The increase of $38.0m (28.5%) in 2002-03 was the first since 1997-98 and was due to higher exploration expenditure for base metals (up $27.0m, 52.4%) and diamonds (up $28.6m, 92.0%). Expenditure for gold and platinum continued to fall (down $17.3m, 38.2%) in 2002-03.
In the period 1998-99 to 2002-03 expenditure on oil and gas exploration rose by 14.7% ($127.3m) (table 16.17) due primarily to an increase in offshore expenditure of 17.3% ($118.3m). Offshore oil and gas exploration expenditure accounts for between 79.0% to 84.3% of total oil and gas exploration expenditure over this period.