By Samantha James

MINERAL exploration trends in Australia are on the rise thanks to increased drilling in WA, according to a new report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The trend estimate for total mineral exploration expenditure rose 2.7 per cent or $9.7 million during the December 2015 quarter to $364.1 million.

The largest contributor to the rise was WA, with expenditure trends up 3.1 per cent – an increase of $6.5 million.

The trend estimate for metres drilled also rose 3.7 per cent in the period.

ABS calculated the trend estimate by reducing irregularities in actual expenditure numbers – which were still declining on December 2014 figures.

In original terms, mineral exploration expenditure fell 3 per cent ($12 million) to $382 million in the period, with exploration on new deposits dropping 7.8 per cent ($9 million) and expenditure on areas of existing deposits falling 1.1 per cent ($3 million).

Spending on uranium exploration fell dramatically by 30.5 per cent ($4.7 million).

The seasonally adjusted estimate – which removes the estimated effects of normal seasonal variation – for mineral exploration expenditure fell 1.4 per cent ($5 million) to $365.3 million in the quarter.

The largest contributor to the fall was WA, with the state’s seasonally adjusted estimate down 2.1 per cent ($4.6 million).

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC) chief executive Simon Bennison said the increase in trends was due to the Federal Government’s Exploration Development Incentive (EDI), which was introduced in July 2015.

“In what is traditionally a negative quarter for mineral exploration, this year we have seen an increase in metres drilled driven by exploration on new deposits,” he said.

“Compared with the September 2015 quarter, greenfields metres drilled is up 30 per cent in the December 2015 quarter whilst expenditure is down 8 per cent.

“The cost of exploration is coming down as would be expected in the current market conditions.

“The increase in greenfields mineral exploration highlights the [positive impact] the EDI is having on greenfields mineral exploration as intended.”

However, Mr Bennison said the figures had come off a low base and did not reflect the overall state of the drilling and exploration sector.
“It’s only a small percentage of what we were five years ago,” he said.

“The reality is that [it’s estimated] that up to 75 per cent of exploration drilling rigs are parked up, they’re looking for work.”