Why Europe needs to go deeper

Europe is totally dependent on import on a number of commodities and the misbalance between domestic primary extraction (mining) and consumption is increasing. This misbalance was the main reason for the RMI (Raw Materials Initiative) in 2008 and is very much still the focus in a number of activities from the commission in relation to raw materials, i.e. the ERA-MIN (Network of the Industrial Handling of Raw Materials for European Industries) an EIP (European Innovation Partnership) on raw materials and a potential EIT (European Institute of innovation and Technology) KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) on raw materials. In many official publications from the EU commission it is commonly stated that Europe lacks domestic resources, full stop. Is this true or is the matter more complicated?

The fact is that taking a look at exploration expenditure the amount of global investments going into the ground in Europe corresponds to less than 3% (see article by Magnus Ericsson). Putting this into a context, based on the figures for 2007, Patrice Christmann (Deputy Director, Corporate Strategy, BRGM) calculated that in a comparison of the average yearly investment in non-ferrous mineral exploration by regions, expressed as US$/km2, Europe ended, without competition, last at 12-15 US$/km2 compared to Africa 19, USA 41, Latin America 46, Asia 53, Canada 65 and Australia 81. It is no bold guess that if these low investments in exploration in Europe continues the domestic mine production will slowly decrease to zero within not a too distant future. Of course there are bright spots on the map. As can be seen in Ericssons article the Nordic countries and Poland are at all time high investments in explorations, and right, new green fields and brown fields discoveries are made in this region. So, if you want to be a bit provocative, you get what you pay for!

Is this lack of investment based on poor geological conditions? No I don't think so. There are regions in Europe which contain world class or major ore deposits, but besides the northern part of Europe there is a lack of modern exploration and the reason for this is access to land, complicated legislation, the general perception is negative and other non geological reasons.

Mines are getting deeper and exploration is targeting deep mineralisation since in mature mining belts most mineralisation at surface is regarded as already discovered. These facts open an enormous opportunity for under-explored mineral belts in Europe, where no exploration has been undertaken at depth. The deepest mine globally is over 4 000 deep, the deepest mine in Europe (Pyhäsalmi in Finland) is around 1400 meters. Most old exploration techniques hardly detected mineralization below a few hundred meters and from geological modelling we know that mineralisation in most mineral belts in Europe exist at depths not targeted before.

So in conclusion, if new exploration techniques were developed and utilized, if new 3D models of the mineral belts were  implemented in exploration strategies and if legislation and general perception changed to see the opportunities mining can create in many regions in Europe, there is no doubt that we will see large new discoveries in Europe that will provide work opportunities in the mining regions and provide revenue to the local and national governments.

Pär Weihed
Luleå University of Technology