Mineral exploration is a long and varied road which in rare occurrence results in a mine. Mineral exploration starts with kicking over some rocks, or even looking at maps and satellite pictures thousands of miles away from what is being explored.
From there it moves through a number of stages of increased complexity and costs with the next step dependent upon the outcomes of the previous. The root exploration is funded solely by private individuals (investors) who are basically gambling that a particular deposit or group of people will find something worth mining. Exploration risks are high and all being said, the rewards aren’t that great in most cases.
Remote sensing is the practice of looking for favourable exploration targets using widely available geophysics and regional geological information. Looking at maps for rock types that are known to host deposits in other areas, proximity to other exploration (past or present, or looking at topographical features that may indicate the presence of an exploration target.
Common information used for remote sensing are: Geological maps (Government), Regional Geophysics surveys (Government) , Topographical maps, historic exploration work archives or the proximity to current, nearby exploration work. At this stage the company or individual knows what type of economic mineral they are looking for and have an idea of where it may be.
Staking a claim
When an area meets the basic exploration criteria it can be staked. This is the government regulated method of determining who has the mineral rights to that area for a set period of time. Once the property is staked, the claim is required to do yearly exploration work on the property of a certain financial value to keep the claim. If the claim owner fails to do any work or abandons the claim it reverts to being stake-able in two years.
Common work done on properties before being sold to an exploration company include mapping, sampling (hand and maybe channel), power stripping with possible small scale drilling. This is all done in an effort to both hold the claim, but to also option it to an exploration company.
With the future introduction of map staking in Ontario, staking will occur online using maps and GPS, for now it requires people to actually physically walk and mark the claim unit.
Prospecting is the boot on the ground kicking over rocks. Prospectors or geologists look over an area for potential exploration target minerals and features which may indicate a further look or staking of a claim.
Commonly rock samples (hand samples) are collected and evaluated for indicator minerals and/or an actual economic minerals.
Optioning or selling a claim
When a prospector or claim owner has a claim, they want to sell or option it to an exploration company. They can aggressively market a group of claims, or if the claim is in an actively sought after area simply option it off when an exploration company becomes interested. Option agreements tend to have cash value, stock options in the exploration company as well as a NSR (net Smelter Royalty) which is a percentage of any mineral actually mined and sold from that property if it ever becomes a mine.