BHP Billiton’s Shenzi operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Elizabeth Fabri

BHP Billiton’s will increase exploration expenditure to $US900 million in the next financial year, accounting for 18 per cent of its overall capital budget.

A value-focused approach to exploration was announced on 27 June at Citigroup’s Mining Exploration Day in Sydney by BHP Billiton head of geoscience Laura Tyler, who outlined the company’s plan to enhance its tier 1 portfolio by focusing on copper and oil.

“We are investing at a time when most in our sector continue to reduce discretionary spend,” Ms Tyler said. “We are also challenging existing paradigms with a scientific based and disciplined approach to exploration.  “We have reduced exploration operating costs by 70 per cent since 2013, and this year we have increased the targets tested by 44 per cent.”

The company’s copper exploration program would target tier 1 greenfield mineral deposits including iron oxide copper gold deposits in South Australia’s Stuart Shelf; sedimentary hosted copper deposits in the north of Canada; and copper porphyry and skarn deposits in Chile, Peru and the south west of the United States. “We execute our copper exploration both directly and through investment in joint venture opportunities and we continue to seek partnerships with junior explorers,” Ms Tyler said.

The petroleum program would explore three conventional deepwater basins, which included the Northern Beagle sub-basin off the coast of WA; Shenzi North, Paleogene and Cretaceous in the Gulf of Mexico; and the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados). “We have commenced drilling in Trinidad and Tobago and have secured an additional rig, which will soon commence drilling in a prospective block north of our Shenzi operations in the Gulf of Mexico,” Ms Tyler said. A drilling decision for the WA sub-basin was expected in the 2017 financial year.

“Internal collaboration is very important, and we are leveraging our Petroleum business geoscience to identify prospective sediment hosted copper deposit basins,” Ms Tyler said. “Similarly, we are adopting technology from Petroleum and applying directional drilling techniques to copper exploration.”