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Drill rigs in demand as miners chase WA riches

Mining companies are tipping more funds into WA exploration in an effort to unearth the next major discovery, new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics have shown.

The findings, released on Monday, revealed $261 million in drilling expenditure was splashed across the State in the year’s opening quarter — a sharp $36 million increase from the $225 million spent at March’s end in 2017.

It marks the most funds invested in WA exploration in five years, when $421.8 million was spent in the opening three months of 2013. Of the $261 million, $137 million was solely spent searching for gold — the most poured into gold exploration in WA during a March quarter.

Raglan Drilling director Gus Lacey, who has 50 staff on the books, noted a significant increase in demand for drill rigs across the Goldfields as explorers focused on homing in on new targets. Raglan’s 10 drill rigs — two diamond rigs, five reverse-circulation rigs and three aircore rigs — are all spinning at various projects in the Goldfields.

However, Mr Lacey said he remained unsure how long the demand would last given the mining industry’s ebbs and flows. “It started getting busy just after Diggers (and Dealers Mining Forum) last year to Christmas,” he said.

“Then there was a lull over Christmas and now the last few months have been pretty busy.

“We’re at full capacity with rigs we’ve got that are available to drill. They’re all in work.

“I’m surprised the gold sector hasn’t been busier for longer because of the gold price over the last two or three years.

“Nickel is coming back and lithium is growing, which is good.”

As at March 30, 1.8 million metres had been drilled, up from 1.5 million metres at the end of the first quarter in 2017.

Nearly $90 million had been spent on greenfields exploration, up from $62.5 million last year, while $172.1 million was tipped into exploration at established projects. Nickel exploration had increased by more than $10 million to 27.6 million year-on-year.

At Northern Star Resources’ half-year presentation in February, company executive chairman Bill Beament called for gold companies operating in Australia to invest more funds in exploration. Making the call after confirming Northern Star would commit $45 million to exploration in the 2018 financial year, he said increased exploration was key to promoting the longevity of the country’s gold industry.

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