SOMERSET WEST (miningweekly.com) – The state of exploration for oil and gas as well as mining is in a fix, with exploration spending having decreased by 69% in the last four years, delegates attending the South African Geophysical Association (Saga) 2017 conference have heard.
Lockheed Martin business development manager Dan Di Francesco said there was scope for adopting better technologies as discovery costs had tripled in the last decade. Low commodity prices, the global economic situation and a rise in the cost of exploration had helped to push exploration into a steep decline since 2012.
“Discovery costs are rising. Exploration activity is looking deeper. Near-surface economic finds are decreasing. Deeper exploration requires a better technology approach. Something has to change,” Di Francesco told delegates.
“We are spending more money on each exploration [area] and we are finding less. The unit cost for a moderate-sized gold or base metals discovery is higher.”
Di Francesco encouraged delegates to innovate and think out of the box to avoid the cycle of spending more and finding less.
He said there was a huge need for efficiency and for bold new approaches, while different industries could also learn from each other. The aerospace and defence industry could, for instance, help the energy, oil and gas and mining industries.
Di Francesco outlined a series of breakthrough innovations that were making an impact on geophysics, including developments in magnetometers, which are used in geophysical surveys.
He said Lockheed Martin’s Diamond Nitrogen Vacancy was an out-of-the-box concept which would potentially overcome limitations experienced by existing magnetometers.
“A laser light enters a synthetic diamond from a facet at its corner and bounces around inside the diamond until its energy is exhausted. This excites nitrogen vacancies that can be used to measure magnetic fields,” he explained.
“This is the first public statement of work we have done,” Di Francesco told the delegates at the conference in Somerset West.
Di Francesco described the development as a revolutionary way of looking at the way to make a magnetic measurement. It provided a full vector, high bandwidth and high-sensitivity sensor with wide dynamic range and negligible drift. It could open up new market areas and applications for various research and development purposes in a range of fields.
Di Francesco also told the conference about advances on Lockheed Martin’s remotely-piloted K-MAX helicopter, which he said could, in time, help people to get off platforms in the Gulf or North Sea.
“You don’t always need a pilot in the loop, with an operator on the ground controlling everything that is going on.” He said it could be very useful in repetitive, hazardous duty missions.
“This could be potentially transformational.”
In the future, Di Francesco said he would like to see a fully integrated geophysics platform in the form of a hybrid airship.
“It has optimal airborne dynamics and large payload capability. No local infrastructure is required and it can stay up for days or even weeks.”
Di Francesco said another keenly-awaited development was Nasa’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars.
InSight’s primary goal is to help the world understand how rocky planets – including Earth – are formed and evolve. Di Francesco said it could even monitor “Marsquakes”. It is currently being built and will be launched in the US next year.
Di Francesco encouraged people in the geophysics sector to be bold in their thinking.
“We need to do better in exploration. Both incremental and disruptive approaches are required. We can’t operate in the same traditional ways and expect better results. Innovation and courage are needed to make this happen.”