The people, science and technology behind discovery

Berkeley advances its uranium exploration projects in Spain with aggressive drilling campaign

Exploration Manager Jim Royall explains how Berkeley Resources honed its expertise in pinpointing modern uranium targets in Spain .

When Berkeley Resources decided to pursue uranium exploration in Spain in 2005, the Australian company faced an interesting dilemma: access to a rich database of historical information about its portfolio of properties without the means or know-how to fully interpret it.

Berkeley was still in the early days of acquiring that expertise when it made its first discovery, Santidad, in an area untouched by previous exploration.

Using ground data it had collected as part of an environmental study, and newly acquired Geosoft exploration software to plot the radiometric data, the company zeroed in on an anomalous area. The subsequent drilling campaign intersected flat-lying uranium mineralization in 14 drill holes over a strike length of 500m and a width of approximately 150m. To date, Santidad has been drilled with close to 200 drill holes. The deposit has a strike length of over 1km and the current resource of the deposit is close to 4 million pounds of contained U3O8.

Since that first discovery, Berkeley has continued to steadily climb the learning curve of acquiring knowledge of the region's uranium geology and mineralization. And it has invested in the technology and expertise required to harvest the opportunity buried within its substantial historical database.

Berkeley's geologists are now able to select drill targets on their projects with confidence. And they can efficiently explore in any type of environment. Whether it's augmenting and extracting insight from 50 year old data in an office, or developing opportunities in the field, as with Santidad.

"We started from nothing," says Jim Royall, Berkeley's exploration manager for the Spanish projects. "Now we believe we can go into any project in Spain, drill it, and come up with a valid interpretation for what we get out of the hole. That is what sets us ahead of any competitor that might appear in Iberia."

As a result, the company is now firing on all cylinders at a time when worldwide uranium demand far exceeds supply from mine production. An aggressive drill campaign using two reverse circulation rigs and at least one diamond rig is underway, new discoveries are being made, and a recent scoping study has confirmed the potential for an economically viable mining operation at Salamanca I, the company's flagship project in the historic uranium mining district of west-central Spain.

Berkeley technical director Dr Jim Ross oversees logging.

Berkeley technical director Dr Jim Ross oversees logging.

And because Berkeley's 450,000 hectares of landholdings represent the entire exploration spectrum, from grassroots prospects to those approaching the feasibility stage, the company can move several projects along the pipeline at once.

The large historical database has required Berkeley to finely tune its processing and interpretation techniques. The mountain of data had built up over decades of uranium prospecting in the Iberian Peninsula - some of it half a century old – and Berkeley has applied considerable expertise and technology to transform it into a useful guide for modern exploration.

The available data is so extensive because Berkley's projects, which cover the main uranium mining and exploration areas in Spain, have all been investigated by reputable explorers in the past, including Areva NC and ENUSA, the Spanish national uranium company. But most of that exploration was completed at least 20 years ago and very little of the information was in digital format.

"There were massive amounts of data available," says Mr. Royall, "We didn't really understand what the data was telling us, so we've had to develop techniques to quickly process and validate existing data and then expand on it."

This has meant growing its investment in Geosoft software, to equip its geologists with a common toolset for efficiently visualizing their drill project data. Uranium exploration requires a lot of drilling to find and outline deposits and Geosoft's exploration geology software, Target, was able to process years of drill logs and turn them into 3-D sections that gave Berkeley a visual rendering of the geology and structure of the deposits they were investigating.

Three dimensional voxel of the Santidad Ore body created in Geosoft Target

Three dimensional model of the Santidad Ore body created in Geosoft Target

"One of the key issues with the Iberian deposits is their variability," explains Mr. Royall. "They have a big footprint, and the ability to view data in the third dimension has been critical in some areas."

Having the technology to handle the massive amount of data has freed the team up to focus on building its geological models. And Berkeley is working with some of the best Universities in Spain and international consultants to develop new genetic models for the Iberian deposits.

It's also helping on a day to day basis. A lot of data is collected in the course of developing a uranium project, and Target is helping to make sense of not only historical data, but the constant stream of new data coming in from airborne radiometric and magnetic surveys, ground scintillometer work, and finally, boreholes. For each hole it drills, Berkeley collects lithological, structural, and geotechnical information as well as down-the-hole scintillometer readings that can determine if the subsurface is radioactive or not.

Being able to fully develop its projects within one environment has been key to keeping this painstaking process efficient.

Map of Salamanca 1 drill targets

Map of Salamanca 1 drill targets

"We don't have to jump across a spectrum of packages, because we're able to do all of our exploration work within Geosoft" says Mr. Royall, "and we've found there's good compatibility with the other programs we use for our resource modeling and GIS work."

Since the company launched its exploration program in Spain, the team has grown from a handful of consultants to 25 full-time employees and 13 national and international consultants. With that rate of growth, extensive training in technology becomes a challenge.

The ease with which its young team of geologists have been able to adopt its exploration software has meant the company could rapidly develop its human resources without slowing down its fast paced exploration.

"We give the Geosoft package to all of our geologists," says Mr. Royall, "and with minimal training they can produce their own cross-sections, maps and plans for their own specific needs."

The company drilled its first hole in December 2006 and by December 2007 it had completed over 15,000m of combined RC and diamond drilling. Only mid-way through 2008 it has already drilled as much. "Our drilling program produces a massive volume of data that requires processing," says Mr. Royall "and Geosoft provides the tools to do this efficiently and quickly. It's enabled our exploration teams to spend less time processing data and more of their time interpreting it to build our understanding."