Time delay between discovery and development – is it getting more difficult?

Presentation to the China Mining 2017 Conference, Tianjin, September 2017

The objective of my talk was to:

  1. Quantify the likelihood that a given mineral discovery will be developed,
  2. Of those that do turn into mines, determine the time delay between discovery and development, and
  3. Assess whether the industry getter better or worse at doing this.

Based on data for 4676 significant non-bulk mineral discoveries# made in the World since 1950, it was identified that 2120 of them had been developed into mines. This gives a nominal conversion rate of 45%. The actual conversion rate will be higher – as many of the newer discoveries haven’t had sufficient time to be drilled-out, evaluated and developed.

For those deposits that do turn into mines, the average delay between discovery and development was nominally 12.4 years. In practice the actual delay will be longer, as recent discoveries are under-sampled in the analysis.

The conversion rate (from discovery to mine) varies by commodity and deposit size. Gold does better than copper or nickel. Also, bigger deposits are more likely to be economic and get developed.

To get a handle on the true trend, a good approach is to look at the trajectory of the cumulative percentage of deposits developed over time (measured in terms of years after discovery). These were separated out into different time-periods of discovery (1960s, 1970s, 1980s etc). From this it was clear that in recent years relatively fewer discoveries are turning into mines and that delay period is longer.

Depending on the commodity, only 50-70% (by number) and 60-80% (by contained metal) of discoveries turn into mines, and the average delay period has blown out to ~20 years.

In other words, it is getting progressively harder and slower to turn a discovery into a mine.

This has profound implications on the industry’s long-term ability to supply new metal to customers.

Return to Publications