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"The rewards though - if we get it right - will be great"

BHP (AU:BHP) is looking to exploration to bolster its copper portfolio rather than going down the M&A route, president of operations for its Minerals Americas division Daniel Malchuk said at the LME Week Bloomberg forum on Wednesday.
"The rewards though - if we get it right - will be great" "The rewards though - if we get it right - will be great" "The rewards though - if we get it right - will be great" "The rewards though - if we get it right - will be great" "The rewards though - if we get it right - will be great"

Daniel Malchuk says exploration is the way forward for copper at BHP

The mining giant already has a number of high-quality, long-life copper assets in its portfolio, including Escondida, Spence, Olympic Dam, Antamina and an option at its Resolution project, but with red metal demand forecast to grow on the rapid rise in renewables and electric vehicles, it wants more.

"We believe the most valuable pathway to achieving this is through exploration, the drill bit … Exploration has the highest potential to deliver future returns and that is why it is a key part of our copper strategy," Malchuk said.

He noted it was not an easy task. 

On one hand, mature, well-established and explored regions like Chile are less likely to host big surface discoveries, with new deposits more likely at depth where they are harder to identify.

On the other hand, less mature regions like Ecuador have better potential for new discoveries closer to the surface, due to historically-lower exploration levels.

"We are aware that greenfield exploration is challenging and high-quality mineral deposits are increasingly scarce and difficult to find," Malchuk said.

BHP's current exploration strategy targets porphyry, skarn and sedimentary-hosted copper deposits, with a focus in the Americas, and IOCG mineralisation in South Australia. 

"These settings host the most important copper deposits ever found," he said. 

At the end of the 2017 financial year, BHP had 79 copper exploration projects covering 1.8 million hectares.

BHP has made and will continue to seal exploration alliances with junior explorers, with Malchuk welcoming partners to get in touch with new ideas and opportunities that the major could help advance.

He said BHP is looking to invest in exploration by allocating funds wisely and through a highly focused and technical approach. 

"Our copper exploration team is leveraging our in-house petroleum exploration expertise with a specialised approach to exploration and deposit modelling. What we call the ‘mineral system' allows us to identify without pre-conceived biases the best geological environments capable of hosting tier-one copper deposits," Malchuk said.

BHP is partnering with Bristol University, and the Universities of Wollongong and Western Australia, which will help the miner tackle any geoscience issues and develop tools that measure the fertility of terrains. 

The miner has leveraged data analytics and developed algorithms to apply to exploration, with its exploration data dating back over 100 years.

"We have a smart exploration programme and a sustainable approach that will see us be a key player in this market at a global level for years to come," Malchuk said. 

"To be successful in exploration, it requires perseverance and a stable and sustained investment through the commodity price cycle. The rewards though - if we get it right - will be great."