man and woman on mining site

Behind the find: How we approach exploration

In our latest operational review, we shared an update on an exploration project underway in Globe-Miami – a copper-rich region in Arizona, United States. Known as Ocelot, the project kicked off in 2019 and represents a unique puzzle for our Metals Exploration team. 

The opportunity to put puzzles like this together is the best part of the job for Tucson-based Manager Exploration US Meghan Chesal. For her team, the pursuit of finding the copper and nickel the world needs is what keeps them motivated and focused.  

“We’re talking here about commodities that benefit everyone and help us move forward with electrification and decarbonisation infrastructure,” Meghan said. “There’s only a finite amount of copper and nickel in the world and exploration is a big part of how we’re going to find it.”

Exploration requires plenty of patience. Across our industry, just one in 1,000 projects results in a deposit discovery while only one in 3,000 identifies a resource base that progresses to production. From Meghan’s perspective, it’s worth the wait.

“In really simple terms, exploration is all about finding what’s going on underground,” Meghan said. “It’s about joining the dots whether that’s through desktop studies, surface analysis, geophysical surveys, and ultimately, drilling.” 

Alongside Oak Dam in Australia, Ocelot is one of our more advanced copper exploration projects and we’re into our third drilling phase to identify its mineralisation, grade and structural geology. 

While there’s promising signs, it’s still early days. Our teams on the ground are using the latest tools and technology to build a clearer picture, with drill holes reaching depths of more than a kilometre.

Generally in exploration, work happens on greenfield sites but Ocelot is different due to the strong local presence BHP already has through nearby Legacy Assets sites. In a close-knit and diverse community like Globe-Miami, it’s crucial we’re engaging at every step of the exploration process.

“Exploration is often the first face from BHP that communities see so it’s really important we do things the right way and engage with our stakeholders regularly and transparently,” Meghan continued.

“If an exploration project progresses to production, it could be the beginning of a decades-long relationship so it’s so important communities know who we are, what we’re doing and why we’re there, in order to build trust from the very beginning.”

Working closely, our Metals Exploration and Legacy Assets teams are putting social value at the heart of the decision-making process, connecting with a cross-section of community and Indigenous stakeholders, many of whom we have long-standing relationships with. 

Should a clear picture of a viable resource body eventuate, a more detailed analysis will be developed as a pre-cursor to progressing the project. For now, the search for the missing puzzle pieces continues.