Mapping and Prospecting
In many cases, there will be decades between the discovery of a potential ore body to when a mine starts operating. In fact, large sums of money could be spent developing a mining site that never begins operating. The stages of development of a mine can be viewed as a value chain, where an increasing financial investment is required at each stage - from identifying a promising geological deposit to a fully operational mine.
Evidence of the presence of a mineral resource in an area (also called "prospect"), might be an elevated concentration of metals in the bedrock or soil samples. In some cases, certain clusters of minerals can indicate the presence of a sought after resource. A geophysical "anomaly," like high electrical conductivity, is associated with certain resources. The first step is to verify the geological indicators; that is, document the size and composition of minerals and elements that are recoverable. Data from core drilling, sampling, microscopy and analysis are used to map the area. Deposits are classified based on the level confidence in the geological information and uses an established classification system and widely accepted standards.
Before a mine goes into operation, a minimum volume of reserves of any mineral resource is required. For a mine to be economically feasible, it is expected that a reserve will last 10-15 years. The standards for documentation of volume of ore reserves are as high as for documenting the mineral resources.
It is not unusual to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to document the presence of an ore reserve. For industrial minerals and natural building materials, the level of investing is lower and the time horizons are shorter.
There is a clear division of tasks performed by the public and private sectors in many countries. In Norway, the State (that is, the Geological Survey of Norway) produces the geological and geophysical maps (scale to 1:50 000), updates and maintains databases of resources and deposits, and offers research-based knowledge about sites in Norway containing significant resources. This data guides industry to potential deposit areas and provides useful information to area planners as to where exploitable resources may or may not be present.
Industry conducts targeted research and prospecting of specific sites. The set of regulations that will be used to guide exploration and prospecting depends on the type of ore under consideration. Dense mineral ores (with specific weight of over 5 tons/m3) are the property of the state, and are claimable. Less dense mineral raw materials are non-claimable and belong to the landowner. To claim of the right to extract minerals from the State, industry must apply to the Directorate of Mining, which administers Mining laws and regulations.