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Exploration sampling;

The key to better mining projects

by Barton G. Stone

ampling is the process of taking a small

portion of an article such that the consistency
of the portion shall be representative of the
whole, (Baxter and Parks, 1939).
An orebody is a mixture of minerals in
proportions that vary in different parts of the mass.
As a consequence, the proportion of contained
metals also varies from place to place. Therefore,
a single sample taken in any particular place

Figure 1

Exploration sampling: Deposits examined.

would not contain the same proportion of metals

as does the orebody as a whole except by a highly
improbable coincidence.
The probable error, which would be very
large if only one sample were taken, decreases with
the number of samples, but it never disappears
completely unless the samples are so numerous
and so large that their aggregate is equal to the
orebody itself, in which case the orebody would be
completely used up in the
process of sampling.
Barton G. Stone, member SME, is
Since carrying sampling
principal geologist, Roscoe Postle
to such an extreme would
Associates USA Ltd.
defeat its own purpose,
some probable error is

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always present in actual cases and the practical

objective is to reduce this probable error to
allowable limits. This means balancing the number
of samples against the desired accuracy; if there are
not enough samples the result is unreliable; if there
are too many, the time and expense of taking them
is excessive. (McKinstry, et al., 1948).
In an actual orebody, the accuracy of sampling
depends not only on the number of samples but also
on their proper distribution
throughout the orebody,
for it would obviously be
incorrect to take all of the
samples either in a rich part
or a lean part. Therefore, it
is important to select the
places in such a way that all
parts of the orebody will be
For those who cultivate
land, which is alike arid,
heavy, and barren, and in
which they sow seeds, do not
make so great a harvest as
those who cultivate a fertile
and mellow soil and sow their
grain in that. And since by far
the greater number of miners
are unskilled rather than
skilled in the art, it follows
that mining is a profitable
occupation to very few men,
and a source of loss to many
more, (Georgius Agricola
page 5 Book 1 as translated
by H.C. Hoover and Lou
Henry Hoover, 1950). It is
evident that mining is very
profitable to those who give it care and attention.


Until the mid-1950s, exploration was still

primarily prospect examination. A prospector
reported the discovery of ore mineralization.
A geologist or mining engineer assessed what
had been found and, if he liked what he saw,
sought the mineral rights for his company or
client. Exploration by prospect examination and
evaluation was quite successful in its time, and it is
still a fundamental part of the exploration process
(Peters, 1978).
There will be prospectors as long as speculation
in mining property carries a chance of profit by

sale to a larger organization, and as long as there are some

high-grade deposits. Modern day prospectors of a slightly
different sort comprise trained geologists who prefer to work
as individuals or as team leads for small groups of speculators.
These individuals are often experienced consultants or former
company men who have decided to follow their own geologic
ideas until they gain an acceptable reward or decide to return
to the shelter of a company salary, but often maintain a royalty
or interest in properties they have explored.
Nay if I understand anything, greater wealth now lies
hidden beneath the ground in the mountainous parts of your
territory than is visible and apparent above ground. Farewell,
(Agricola, De Re Metallica, 1556).
Time is always of the essence in exploration. For example,
government concessions require it, option payments to
prospectors have time limits, shareholders lose patience and
withdraw funds, etc. For explorationists, it is important to
reconnoiter the whole chosen tract, using methods that will
give the most information at the earliest date. Every country
and terrain has its own peculiarities of gathering information
and looking at rocks. In the Amazon, airborne geophysics
have proven valuable exploration tools in dense jungle and
forested areas where ordinary photographic tools only show
a carpet of green. In the Canadian Arctic, even black and
white aerial photographs have been valuable in covering large
areas of glaciated outcrop. The Basin and Range area of the
western United States has shown most value lies in mapping
the ranges and working out the geology beneath the basins
once the ranges have been adequately covered.
After geological reconnaissance, portions of the targeted
tract or concession can be classified into several categories:




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1. Ground in which there are known orebodies or

promising indications.
2. Ground on which favorable structural conditions are
known to exist.
3. Ground on which no favorable conditions are known
to exist.
4. Ground on which favorable conditions are believed
to be absent.
It is necessary to distinguish between the absence of
positive indications and the actual presence of negative
indications. Rocks that are clearly younger than the oreforming period are definitely unfavorable, and rocks in this
category that extend to depths below the reasonable limits of
mining, as in downfaulted block or post-ore intrusions, can be
rejected with confidence (McKinstry, 1948).
Lack of alteration is discouraging but is not necessarily a
negative indication. Some mining areas show that the wallrock is only altered a few inches to a few feet from ore. All of
these features need to be analyzed by posting to a geologic
map, the succinct two- or three-dimensional representation
of the geologic information collected, and at a scale that is
reasonable for the project size. A mining property of 7.8 km2
(3 sq miles) should be mapped at scales in the range of 1:
2500 to 1:6000, whereas a property exceeding 518 km2 (200
sq miles) should be mapped at scales ranging from 1:100,000


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required additional work to optimize

production rates. Explorationists may
benefit by careful analysis of a deposit
at the exploration stage.

Yerington, NV

The pit at the

Yerington Mine in

to 1:250,000. Scales exceeding 1:500,000 are useful

in compilations of entire states, countries and
multiple state regional comparisons.
Many additional geological tools are now
available to the geologist in regional and district
evaluations. High altitude color photography,
satellite imagery in specific spectral bands
allow identification of specific clays associated
with mineralization, gravimetric surveys allow
close definition of slight density differences
in structurally juxtaposed rocks, and there are
even sniffing tools that allow the detection of
faint levels of gas generation caused by oxidized
sulfides. All tools have the potential to allow
better targeting of a specific area in which to focus
additional detailed work. The major challenge
for the geologist and his employer is to maximize
geologic, chemical and physical information into a
cost-effective exploration budget within corporate
and shareholder expectations. A $5-million
airborne radiometric survey, over a large portion
of a state, with a 610-m (2,000-ft) thickness of
volcanic rock cover over most of the prospective
rocks, while searching for a potential gold deposit,
may terminate as a poor use of exploration dollars.
The ultimate goal of exploration is to define
a target area that can be drilled successfully. A
successful program will involve drill hole intercepts
with metal grades similar to other deposits of the
same metal that are being mined elsewhere in the

Deposits to consider

The following deposits, as shown in Fig.

1, from the authors experience, exhibit issues
where sampling has not been sufficiently rigorous
to necessarily allow a simple solution for mine
development; or specific problems have arisen that

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The porphyry experience at

Yerington, NV. Latitude 385856.8
North, Longitude 1191131.2 West.
Original resource: 147 Mt (162
million st) at 0.54 percent copper, of
which 94 Mt (104 million st) were
amenable to leaching with sulfuric acid
(oxide material). Production to closure
in 1978 was 778 kt (1.744 billion lbs) of
copper, from a combined 317 Mt (350
million st) of ore and waste.
In 1945, the Anaconda Co. acquired
the Yerington property, a historic
copper oxide vein mining district in
Lyon County, Nevada. Drilling over the next six
years identified a substantial porphyry copper
deposit, which was opened as the Yerington Pit in
1951. By 1954, copper precipitates from the oxide
leach achieved a designed production of 2.2 kt/m
(5 million lbs/month).
One sampling issue: At Yerington, a series of
quartz monzonite porphyries (QMPs) are intrusive
into an equigranular quartz monzonite (QME).
QMP1, QMP2 and QMP3 are all nearly identical
in hand specimen except for the amount of copper
sulfides they contain. QMP1 and QMP2 host the
bulk of the sulfide mineralization. During mining,
it was discovered that the crushing circuitry
processing rate could drop from 1,360 t/h (1,500
stph) to 826 t/h (900 stph), which was a significant
decrease. Geologic examination of the problem
discovered that the issue was with the recirculating
material, which was rejected and sent back through
the grinding circuit. This was a result of the graphic
quartz intergrowths in the QME, which were larger
than the quartz eyes in the QMP rocks, as well as
much more irregularly shaped, and they required
additional regrinding. The solution was to ensure
that all pit face shovels were not exclusively digging
QME rock, but had some shovels also digging
QMP1 or QMP2 rocks.

Bingham Canyon, UT

The skarn experience at Bingham Canyon, UT.

Latitude 4031 27.7 North, Longitude 11210
17.3 West.
Original resource: 56 Mt (62 million st) at
2 percent copper. Mine closed in 1981 after
production of 1,733,397 t (1,910,712 st) at 2 percent
copper, only 3 percent of the resource. The mine
flooded in 1987 and remains flooded today.
In 1974, Anaconda announced the development


of the skarn deposit at Carr Fork and initiated a

four-shaft mine development project at a cost of
$440 million. The mine produced its first copper
concentrate in August 1979.
Sampling issues: The skarn deposit contained
the best copper grades in andradite garnet zones.
In underground workings, the garnet zones would
not fragment well enough to feed the conveyor
galleries without substantial rework and reblasting.
Wollastonite-altered zones almost brought
percussive drilling to a complete halt in the fringe
areas of the copper mineralization because of the
inability of the drills to perforate the zone in a
timely fashion, combined with the extreme dulling
of the percussive, as well as diamond drilling bits.

Kerio Valley, Kenya

The fluorite experience at Kerio Valley, Kenya.

Latitude 01954.2 North, Longitude 353729.7
Original resource: A ballpark estimate of 8-km
(5-mile) long by 40-m (130-ft) wide by 200 m (656
ft) vertical extent and a specific gravity of 3.18 yields
approximately 200 Mt (220 million st) of fluorite.
Fluorspar is the common term used for the
mineral fluorite, which is naturally occurring
calcium fluoride (CaF2). It is the principal source of
fluorine, the most reactive of the chemical elements,
from which a variety of unique and strategically
important chemicals are produced.
The Kerio Valley deposits have been
commercially mined since 1971. Initially,
metallurgical grade fluorspar (70-90 percent CaF2)
was produced. In 1975, a 91-kt/a (100,000-stpy)
acid-grade fluorspar (minimum CaF2 content of
97 percent) concentrator was commissioned. By
1979, metallurgical-grade fluorspar was no longer
produced as a primary product. The Kimwarer
deposit has now been mined for more than 35
years. All mining is by openpit methods and the
overburden ratio ranges from 3:1 to 8:1 (waste to
ore). More than 635 kt (700,000 st) of waste are
stripped annually at current production levels.
Approximately 327 kt/a (360,000 stpy) of ore are
The mineralized faults in the Kerio Valley are
associated with the horst and graben structures that
characterize the edges of the Great African Rift
system that extends from Zimbabwe to Turkey. In
the Kerio Valley, a 10-km- (6-mile-) long window
of Precambrian marbles, biotite gneisses, quartzites
and schists have a north-south structural grain of
banding and bedding, which parallels the rift system
fault structures. These structures allowed fluorine
rich gases to move through the marble rich zones
and replace the calcite.
Sampling issues: Numerous contaminants and

impurities impact the grade and marketability of

fluorite. Many fluorite deposits produce fluorite
as a byproduct of mining other sulfides. Fluorite
is commonly associated with lead, zinc and silver
deposits. Sometimes the recovery of fluorite is
only economic if the other associated metals can
be recovered. Silica is undesirable because it
combines with fluorine in the HF manufacturing
process to form fluosilicic acid H3SiF6. Lime
minerals consume sulfuric acid. Sulfide sulfur and
fatty acid reagent residues (from flotation) cause
trouble in the HF process and are limited to 0.025
percent. For acid-grade concentrate, a screen size
of at least 75 percent -200 mesh is preferred.
In addition to the wide variation in mineral and
rock content, there are other variations, the most
important of which is interlocking of minerals with
gangue. The most serious interlocking is generally
between the fluorite and siliceous minerals, which
may approach solid solution, with liberation
incomplete even at 400 mesh. Because of such
interlocking, some high-grade fluorite deposits
have not been of economic interest.
To some extent, interlocking with sulfides
may be a problem, particularly with ores of
sphalerite. Zinc smelters penalize for fluorine
in zinc concentrates, or even refuse to accept
shipments (Musson and Fowler, 1996). Regrinding
of the zinc rougher concentrate and extra cleaning
may be necessary to reduce the fluorspar in zinc
concentrates to specification requirements.
Ore from the oxidized portion of an orebody
or stockpile is difficult to float selectively. This is
particularly true where pyrite is present, or has
been. The products of oxidation cause a high
degree of flocculation of the ore pulp, resulting
in dirty mineral surfaces and blockage of the
surfaces to reagent contact. Fluorite has a specific
gravity of 3.18 in its pure form and lends itself well

Kerio Valley, Kenya.

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to preconcentration of the flotation feed using

heavy media separation processes, which can save
processing and shipping costs from the mine site.
Of the common gangue minerals, barite is the
most difficult to reject in fluorspar flotation. A
highly specific depressor for barite has not been
discovered. Standard practice is to depress barite
with dextrin, starch or chromates during fluorspar
flotation and, when present in sufficient quantity,
recover it from the fluorspar tailings using sodium
cetyl sulfate as the collector. A product of 95
percent BaSO4 or more is recovered.
Minable fluorspar deposits, around the world,
in descending order of importance, occur as bedded
limestone replacement deposits along fault zones;
fissure-vein deposits, breccia filling in limestones,
dolomites or various igneous rocks; replacements
in carbonate rocks along contacts with acid igneous
intrusives; replacement of igneous material in
stockworks, dikes and breccia pipes; residual
deposits in clays resulting from weathering; and a
recoverable gangue mineral in base and precious
metal deposits (Gill Montgomery, 1992).

Alberta oil sands

The oil sands in Northern Alberta, Canada.

Latitude 565433 North, Longitude 111 3.4
Original resource: Canada has the thirdlargest oil reserves in the world. About 97 percent
of these reserves are in oil sands. With currently
available technology and under current economic
conditions (Nov. 20, 2014) there are 170.4 billion
barrels of recoverable oil in the oil sands deposits
of Northern Alberta. Another 315 billion barrels of
potentially recoverable oil in the oil sands requires
more favorable economic conditions or new
technology to extract and process.
The oil sands deposits cover 140,000 km2
(54,000 sq miles), of which 500 km2 (194 sq miles)
are undergoing surface mining activity (oil sands
within 75 m or 250 ft of the surface). Approximately
2 t (2.2 st) of oil sands must be dug up, moved and
processed to produce one barrel of synthetic crude
oil (SCO).
The minable Alberta oil sands are unusual in
their development because the openpit design
features are mandated by law to optimize the
benefits to the people of Alberta. As a result, the
mine pit design is based on the total volume to
bitumen in place ratio (TV/BIP). As outlined in
ERCB Interim Directive 2001-7, an ore zone is
defined by 3 m (10 ft) of bituminous oil sands, with
an aggregate average grade of 7 percent, and a TV/
BIP ratio less than 12.
Cutoff ratio = ((waste block volume) +
( ore block volume)) / ( bitumen volume).

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Bitumen volume = ((block volume x (oil

sands T/BCM) x block grade)/100) / ( bitumen
The following factors must be used:
T/BCM = 2.08 tons/m3 (density of oils
sands materials)
Bitumen T/BCM = 1.007 tons/m3 (density
of bitumen material)
Bitumen cut-off = 7 percent (percentage of
bitumen below which is considered waste)
Cut-off ratio = 12 (this value refers to the
TV/BIP cut-off ratio).
All of the bitumen resources present in the
openpit minable zones near Ft. McMurray are
hosted in the clastic sediments of the Lower
Cretaceous McMurray Formation. These sediments
were deposited 113 to 120 million years ago on top
of an irregular precretaceous unconformity, within
a north-flowing river valley system.
In response to a southward transgression of
the sea during Lower Cretaceous time, a sequence
of fluvial, estuarine and marine sediments was
deposited on the precretaceous unconformity. As
the unconformity filled with fluvial sediments and
the sea transgressed southward, the river system
was drowned and an estuary developed where
estuarine channel sands accumulated forming a
broad blanket. Continued sediment supply led
to an upward aggradation where finer sediments
were deposited along channel margins and covered
the clean sand bodies with interbedded sand and
mud, often with narrow ribbons of tidal channel
sand. Transgression of the sea further south, led to
subsequent deposition of marine shoreface sands
and mud, capping the estuarine deposits.
Based upon its depositional history, the
McMurray Formation has been divided into three
members: Lower McMurray (LM), comprises a
fluvial channel complex, which is capped by flood
plains and marshes; Middle McMurray (MM),
which is an open estuarine environment that
vertically (and often laterally) aggrades to tidedominated estuarine channel complexes, and is
often high grade with bitumen grades of 12 percent
and Upper McMurray (UM), which primarily,
consists of shoreface marine sand and clay.
Sampling issues: A total of 106 facies have been
identified in the McMurray Formation, overlying
Quaternary and the underlying Devonian
Waterways Formation through core logging. Only
facies that occur in the McMurray Formation were
used to model the different assay and particle
size distribution (PSD) attributes. Assay sample
intervals are determined by a geologist in the core
lab, and must not overlap facies boundaries. PSD
is done using a laser diffraction method. Gamma


data are typically composited to 1-m (3.3-ft)

increments and inserted into the database.
Gamma can in some circumstances act as a PSD
PSD is a key parameter in surface mining
operations, and is widely used to predict bitumen
extractability, efficiency of froth treatment in
flotation and the behavior of the tailings.
Measured resources are defined on a 1 km
(0.6 mile) drilling grid, which defines a bitumen
enriched sand averaging approximately 65 m (213
ft) thick. Infill drilling is done on 500 m (1,640 ft),
250 m (820 ft) and 100 m (330 ft) grids within the
1 km (0.6 mile) corner original exploration drill
grid. Detailed production drilling requires 25 m
(82 ft) spacing because of the extreme variability
in channel sands and estuarine environments that
impact the bitumen content.
Both diamond drill core assaying and
petrophysical/geophysical gamma logging tools
are used to determine the bitumen content in
each hole. The advantage of the petrophysical
tools is the ability to create porosity, water
content, and facies type continuous logs of the
entire hole. However, the slight disadvantage is
that the analytical studies have shown that the
petrophysical analysis tends to under-predict
bitumen saturation compared to the assay
analysis by about 5 percent. The data also shows
that in 75 percent of the cases, using petrophysical
analysis is under-predicting bitumen grade versus
assay data. When an over prediction is observed,
it has an 80 percent chance of being within 10
percent of the assay data. This analysis supports
a reasonable certainty conclusion when using the
petrophysical methods to calculate the bitumen
saturation values. The level of reasonable
certainty is used to define measured, indicated
and inferred resources.

Caribou, NB

The massive sulfides at Caribou, NB,

Canada. Latitude 4733 49.7 North, Longitude
661725.3 West.
Original resource: In 1980, the Anaconda
Minerals Co., after 26 years, including its initial
discovery, drilling, and adit access sampling work
on the Caribou deposit, had outlined a massive
sulfide deposit containing 35.6 Mt (39/3 million
st) with grades of 0.33 percent copper, 2.06
percent lead, 4.86 percent zinc, 0.97 g/t (0.028 oz/
st) gold and 53 g/t (1.54 oz/st) silver. Dec. 1, 2014
metal value = $201.14/ton without recoveries
considered. The following chronology illustrates
the mining attempts:
1987-1989: East-West Caribou Mining
Ltd. initiated preproduction construction and
underground development, and produced 382 kt

(421,000 st) at 7.7 percent Zn and 3.54 percent

1989-1990: Breakwater Resources Ltd.
acquired East-West and briefly opened the mine,
producing 728.4 kt (803,000 st) at 7.17 percent
Zn and 3.54 percent Pb but closed in 1990 due to
poor metallurgical recovery.
1990-1998: Breakwater Resources Ltd., using
new metallurgical testwork results, mined 587 kt
(646,000 st) at 6.34 percent Zn, 2.93 percent Pb
and 90 g/t (2.62 oz/st)Ag.
In 2005, Blue Note Metals Inc. acquired the
property and attempted to reopen the mine
based on the Breakwater plan done in 2000. They
mined 567 kt (625,000 st) at 5.19 percent Zn, 2.44
percent, Pb, 0.26 percent, Cu and 62.72 g/t (1.82
oz/st) silver, and then declared bankruptcy in
Maple Minerals Inc. acquired the Caribou
property from bankruptcy and, in 2012, Trevali
acquired Maple Minerals and now controls the
Caribou deposit.
During the 21-year period from 1987-2008, the
cumulative production from Caribou was 2.3 Mt
(2.5 million st) at 6.57 percent Zn, 3.11 percent Pb
and lesser other metals. This production amounts
to 6.5 percent of the original resource tonnage.
The Nov. 21, 2013 Trevali Mining Corp. NI 43101 Technical Report by SRK (Canada) lists an
underground measured and indicated resource of
7.23 Mt (7.9 million st) at 6.99 percent Zn, 2.93
percent Pb, 0.43 percent Cu, 0.89 g/t (0.025 oz/st)
Au and 84.43 g/t (2.46 oz/st) silver. An additional
inferred tonnage amounts to 3.66 Mt (4 million st)
at 6.95 percent Zn, 2.81 percent Pb, 0.32 percent
Cu, 1.23 g/t (0.035 oz/st) Au and 78.31 g/t (2.28
oz/st) silver. The SRK calculations were based
on a cutoff grade of 5 percent Zn equivalent, and
these cutoff grades were based on gold at $1,470/
oz, Ag at $26/oz, Cu at $3.39/lb, Zn at $1.14/lb
and Pb at $1.18/lb. Recoveries were based on 83
percent for Zn, 71 percent for Pb, 57 percent for
Cu, 45 percent for Ag and 40 percent for Au.
Sampling issue: Many players tried and spent
large sums of money. The primary issue was
the sulfide grain size that created huge sliming
problems with the flotation cells and very low
metal recovery.


The examples demonstrate that billions

of dollars can be spent on mineral deposit
development without a guarantee of success,
primarily due to insufficient sampling studies on
the ore host rocks and mineral variability.
Explorationists, please remember the
600-year-old advice: Forewarned is forearmed.
(References available from the author.) n
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