MGEI 2019 Annual Conference as a window of opportunity.
The 11th annual conference of the Indonesian Society of Economic Geologists (MGEI), a sub organization of the Indonesian Association of Geologists (IAGI), was held in Bogor towards the end of September in 2019. There were three pre conference work-shops, some 4 opening speeches, 6 keynote speakers and about 30 papers that were delivered to an audience of around 200 over 3 days. About 10% of the attendance was by women, and the conference included a student poster competition. The title of the conference was “Unlocking Concealed and Complex Deposits”. This covered a wide range of topics, including the commodities of coal, nickel, gold, tin, base metals and rare earths. The technical fields included various aspects of geological exploration, mining, metallurgy and research. The speakers included well known international and Indonesian experts along with first time presenters.
At the end of the conference a great summary of the papers was read out to the audience. Some key points included a definition of Concealed Deposits and Complex Deposits, and a statement that “Concealed deposits can occur in various geological environments and be formed by diverse and evolved geological process”. The summary of the challenges to exploration and discovery include; – “1) Success ratio of exploration is lower, 2) Go deeper [concealed] targets, 3) Working on more complex deposits, 4) more expensive to discover new deposits, 5) volatile commodity prices, unfavourable regulations, 6) prepare for future development driven by environmental issues, such as recycling for aluminium and carbon emissions for coal.”
Most of the presentations are available from the MGEI office. This article does not seek to summarise the material presented at the MGEI annual conference, but looks beyond areas mentioned, into some future opportunities for the exploration industry.
Off Setting Production Risk.
Budi Sadikin of Inalum gave a very stimulating presentation wherein Inalum may take a leadership role in encouraging greenfields exploration. He mentioned initiatives (1-2% gross income) to provide long term funding (10-year budget), and to attract juniors to Indonesia. This is a well-accepted global corporate strategy for organic growth, and survival strategy, in creating a pipe line of new mines for when the mature mining assets are severely disrupted or are completed. Some other companies operating in Indonesia have a similar outlook, with more companies to be encouraged to consider this exploration business strategy. An expansion of this concept of Budi can be found on the linked-In site – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/budi-sadikin-inalum-driving-greenfield-exploration-indonesia-wollff/
There is a broad push by professionals and administrators to expand Indonesian towards new commodities. This conference identified a few new areas that include nickel sulphides, orogenic gold, rare earths, radio-active mineral etc. The Indonesian KCMI or SNI reporting codes require some support from international experts in these frontier areas, to generate momentum for Indonesian professionals to reliably undertake exploration and reporting in such fields.
The Governments long process to acquire Freeport shares has stimulated the Indonesian Association of Geologists (IAGI) and Indonesian Mining Professional Association (PERHAPI) to work with other stakeholders to develop an international recognized system to determine the project value for exploration or mining properties. Discussions at a pre-conference workshop indicated the Australian VALMIN code has some useable aspects. A comparable Indonesia system would need to interlink with local government agencies and laws to develop a project valuations code to fit with the Indonesian system. This is going to be a long and difficult process, but is an essential component for the development of a mature industry in Indonesia.
The MGEI conference was an excellent platform to present a number of geologically related research papers. Much geological research is presently aimed towards better mapping and more detailed understanding of geological sites, often with a view to explore for commodities. There is an array of available sophisticated tools in Indonesia that can look deeply into the rock and mineral properties. Some of these new tools are more affordable for mining companies, research units and universities. The opportunity for Indonesia to attract local and international geological, mining, metallurgical researchers to work on Indonesia’s diverse geological provinces is an area that could be further promoted.
Indonesia’s regional mapping (1:250,000 series) was completed around 30- 40 years ago. Since then, satellite technology, ground and air geophysics, regional geochemical surveys, mapping & drilling, along with advances in our understanding of fundamental geology have been undertaken. This MGEI Conference pointed out several cases of concealed ore deposits, some related to the earlier mis-mapping of areas. The availability of stronger computers, big data software and various geological programs may be used to bring Indonesia’s geological maps up-to-date at the scale of 1:50,000, and thereby promote further exploration. At present the government (Province / National) Geological Department nominates areas based on such old maps and limited new data. An updated pegging system that allows the public to nominate their own area, and principal commodity sought, may allowed for greater scientific creativity to become a part of the Indonesian discovery profile.
Many of Indonesia’s ore deposits have been found through stream geochemical surveys and outcrop mapping wherein conversion to Reserves through open pit mining reflected many practical limits of the recent past. Freeport is leading the metal mining industry to understand and develop skills to mine deep underground. This MGEI Conference highlighted there are a number of other prospects that may be found deep underground, wherein their surface expression may be minimal or completely “blind”. This is a new horizon and new opportunity for Indonesia to multiply the size of the mining industry, and to provide challenging professional carriers for many.
The environmental constraints have a growing tendency to impose severe restrictions on exploration and mining. One MGEI Conference paper shows that research is also working towards a better understanding of mine waste, and so, may more readily allow environmental compliance with undersea tailing disposal, dry tailing stacking etc.
Traditional geological skills needed.
Several presentations wowed the audience with new technology for detailed core logging and associated mineral identification. One presentation even suggested that ore bodies could be found from space. However, one very dynamic presentation by a successful geologist brought us back to reality, with a strong emphases of field mapping using basic tools and an understanding of the rocks as being fundamental to discovery. The range of new technology is fantastic in assisting the geologist. But the centuries old saying that the “best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks” still caries weight. The Government and professional associations further recognize this saying, by only allowing experienced geologists (often referring to 3 – 5 years minimum relevant experience) to sign off on some geological reports.
The Use of Numbers.
Some geological deposits are particularly complex at varying scales and in variations of quality, shape and associated elements etc. Nickel laterites are a prime example, but various gold ore bodies and even coal examples were presented in the MGEI Conference. Geostatistics has evolved to assist the geologist and miner to determine an optimum ore geometry, justifiable drill spacing, determine optimal grade or even determine the nations resource and reserves. Reliable data is a prerequisite for such numerical studies, wherein the importance of quality control in collecting and verifying data is essential. The industry trend of putting the junior geologist on the drill rig, and having the senior geologist in the office compiling the data only works when there is strong training, supervision and checks at the data collection point.
Increase in complexity.
For many years Indonesian mines have developed shallow coal seams, laterites, gold oxides etc with little complexity in shape or chemistry. This MGEI conference showed that the geologist, miners and metallurgists are moving forward with new tools, new ideas and new ways to solve problems. The MGEI Conference showed some examples of geophysical surveys, approach geological modelling and particularly new paths to mineral processing / smelting. This ability to tackle complex deposits (including wall rocks and tailings) is providing new incentive and direction to revive exploration, mining and research. The MGEI conference also showed examples where complex structure or geochemistry can also provide “path finders’ for exploration.
Elephant in the room.
Much of the recent Indonesian boom exploration periods were supported by investors that could readily see rapid returns on investment from simple shallow ore deposits (coal, bauxite, oxide gold), or readily identifiable rich epithermal veins etc. This new era of complex, deep and hidden deposits is now somewhat uncertain and daunting for most investors. This MGEI conference gave examples of how the industry professionals are managing to find significant complex and concealed deposits. The technical success in discovery of major projects will slowly attract a new breed of investors. The more challenging part is Country Risk, that was hardly ever mentioned in this MGEI conference.
Book of discoveries.
Most of the MGEI conference posters started out with literature research followed by field studies. There are many on-line research sites, traditional university / mining / research libraries, along with mining reports buried in various stock exchange’s etc. Theo Van Leeuwen’s new book “25 More tears of mineral exploration and discovery in Indonesia (1993-2017)” was on sale at the MGEI booth. Theo’s book provides an extensive list of mineral exploration projects in Indonesia. Some are now mines, but essentially all these projects may be a starting point to develop new ore process concepts that could be further explored to yield significant new complex or hidden ore bodies.
Cold War Thawing.
The Mines Department acknowledges the exploration industry potential for nuclear elements (Uranium & Thorium), while the implementation is under the Presidential authority. This MGEI conference included a presentation of some exploration activities by BADAN for uranium potential, being part of post coal war opening up this subject to the professionals and public. Several locations were mentioned, and the geological setting for sediment hosted uranium deposits were outline, to give vectoring for future exploration targets. The complexity here is more in the management of the human responses to the industry. There is clearly a long way to go, but this MGEI Conference is one further step towards developing a new branch of the exploration and mining industry.
The most striking conclusion of this MEGI annual conference was the speakers with strong professional experience transferring their knowledge to the wider scientific community. At the end of each of the 3 days there were no noisy parties. It seemed everyone was exhausted at the end of each day from the focused uptake of such knowledge and experience. Fortunately, many of the presentations are available from MGEI, though attending the live event added a significant dimension to the transfer of knowledge. Each session was followed by a short question and answer, wherein there was a very diverse interaction with the audience.
The most thought-provoking conclusion from this MGEI conference was the use of so many new and wonderful tools that are now available and accessible in Indonesia for the geologist, miner and metallurgist. These are a great add-on for scientific practitioners, but their use can only be beneficial if they are supporting a sound understanding of the geological/ mineralogical bases. The concept that it takes a minimum of 3 – 5 years working experience to be recognized as a competent geologist / miner / metallurgist is a greater challenge today, as there is so much more to learn beyond the basics.
The most exciting conclusion from this MGEI conference was the exposure of so many opportunistic targets for exploration and mining. Nickel Sulphides, Orogenic gold, hidden porphyries, extensions of mineralized belts and base metals were some of the highlighted opportunities. I am sure if Indonesia were to look at a wider range of ore genesis targets, then spectacular discoveries could be found in Indonesia’s diverse and poorly mapped geological provinces.