Demand for copper continues to grow, yet exploration efforts have only delivered one significant discovery in the past five years. It's well-known that developing a new copper mine from discovery does not happen overnight - it takes 15-20 years on average. This is a clear red flag for future supply.
One might think there would be more urgency around the situation, yet the dearth of discovery is not a recent phenomenon - the number of copper finds has been shrinking since the 1990s. From 1990 to 2008, there were only 21 major discoveries, which yielded 102.4 million tonnes of copper.
Compare that with the previous two decades which saw 199 discoveries yielding 992.5Mt. The past decade has seen just 16 discoveries, with just the Marimaca Copper Project, in northern Chile near Antofagasta, in the most recent half decade.
While the project has tremendous exploration potential throughout its licence area, it clearly cannot meet future demand on its own.
In our pursuit of greener technology for end-consumer consumption, more copper is needed to feed power grids, electric vehicles, and appliances. This, in turn, will only push the price of copper higher as supply remains tight, a trend only too visible in the first half of 2021.
For Marimaca and its namesake project, this has intensified its exploration effort. The company is already planning to increase the mine life outlined in a 2020 preliminary economic assessment through ongoing drilling after finding encouraging sulphide extensions at depth through initial tests.
The second half of 2021 will see Marimaca expand its exploration plans further in Chile, drilling adjacent targets outside the initial discovery while moving the original oxide project towards construction next year.
Prioritising exploration in this way is rare, today. Many companies have continued to move away from greenfield exploration to focus on established assets.
For a pursuit that remains in part a numbers game, it feels the industry is failing to invest sufficiently in exploration to deliver tomorrow's world-class copper operations.