Great Western Exploration: Beyond scratching the surface seeking giant copper targets

For some junior explorers it can be hard to find your feet, but Great Western Exploration (ASX:GTE) is not one of those juniors as CEO Shane Pike says the company’s efforts are “all coming to fruition now”.

During 2023, the company undertook several exploration programs and put a lot of technical rigour into several potentially “company-making” targets. To say Great Western is going beyond scratching the surface is an understatement.

Although no discovery is guaranteed, as the company is gearing up to begin drill testing on two “giant” copper targets, Pike says the potential upside if Great Western were to land either one of these targets, is significant and would create substantial value for the company. 

And when you have a potential colossal target on the horizon the odds are stacked in your favour.

“It certainly would be the best position we have ever been in and I feel quite privileged to be able to point to these targets with real belief in them,” he says. 

“It certainly would be the best position we have ever been in and I feel quite privileged to be able to point to these targets with real belief in them”

Discovery of giant deposits often involves the identification of at least three key ingredients that may define a potential major mineralisation system. The interpretation of the Yerrida Basin Growth Fault is one very significant key ingredient of Oval and Oval South, which Great Western has already identified.

Pike tells this news service this greatly enhances the discovery of a giant Winu-style intrusive related copper-gold system.

The Yerrida fault is a long-lived structure, likely to have penetrated the Archean Basement below the Yerrida Basin. Crucially for Oval and Oval South, this feature intersects the crustal scale mantle tapping Ida Fault.

Great Western interprets that Oval and Oval South’s coincident geophysics anomalism, location on a major crustal mantle tapping fault, newly interpreted intersection with a basin-defining growth fault, and within favourable stratigraphy creates the potential for a colossal discovery to be made.

On the money

With more than $2.3 million in the bank and a market capitalisation of $22.62 million, the Western Australia-based explorer is focused on committing all of its financial firepower to hitting the jackpot with a giant target and proving up the next major copper mine.

Pike says this is all because the company is “obsessed with making a discovery”.

“We all want to put as much of our funds into the ground as we can to make that discovery. It’s a win-win for everyone.” 

And that is exactly what Great Western is doing, with Pike telling Mining.com.au that the company’s non-executive directors, who are also the company’s largest shareholders, do not get paid. 

Even the company’s headquarters on St George’s Terrace, which is flanked by the likes of mining giants BHP (ASX:BHP) and Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO), is rent-free. 

This further reinforces Great Western’s commitment to making that next big discovery. 

The first target the company will begin drilling is the Fairbairn Project, which has similar geological features to Sandfire Resources’ (ASX:SFR) DeGrussa Copper Mine as it is a volcanic-hosted massive sulphide (VHMS) target. 

“We’re going to drill these conductors that are fairly shallow below the surface. This style deposit has never been tested up here before,” Pike says. 

Not only has this style of deposit never been tested before in the Earaheedy Basin, but there are actually three that the company plans to drill given these types of deposits often form in clusters. 

“We’ve got three targets we’re going to be targeting there. We will take one DeGrussa but three would be better,” Pike says. 

Great Western’s other targets that will be drill tested – dubbed Oval and Oval South – are hosted within the vastly underexplored Yerrida Basin, which sits adjacent to DeGrussa and the Monty Copper-Gold VHMS deposits. 

Oval and Oval South are interpreted to represent giant Winu-style intrusive related copper-gold mineralisation targets. 

“It’s got several coincident geological attributes that make it look like Winu, such as a magnetic anomaly just below that we think is the feeder for fluids to come up and get trapped by the stratigraphy,” Pike says.

“Oval is probably one of the largest targets that anyone will drill on the ASX this year.” 

Most importantly, Pike acknowledges that the Oval and Oval South targets lie along the Ida Fault — a more than 500km long crustal-scale fault that hosts notable mines and deposits, including the Perseverance Mine and Mount Keith nickel deposit, DeGrussa Copper Mine, and the Davyhurst Gold Mine. 

“What that tells us is that it’s a fertile structure, and it’s cross-cut by another structure that we interpret helped focus fluids. That is why we’re so excited about it, it’s why Sandfire was so excited about it,” he says. 

“Ordinarily, a target of this size is not found in a portfolio of a junior exploration company.” 

Pike tells this news service that Great Western is focusing on emulating what Sandfire did back in 2009. 

For context, before Sandfire began drilling the renowned DeGrussa Mine in 2009, the company’s share price was trading at about $0.05 per share and continued to climb as drilling progressed. 

One year later, Sandfire’s share price skyrocketed to $5 per share, and is currently trading at $9.305 per share, as of 3 May 2024 — and this all stemmed from the initial DeGrussa discovery. 

When asking Pike what makes this area a potential winner, he explains it as if he was ticking off a list — “Okay you got a conductor, tick. Is it potential in an old seafloor environment? Yes it is, tick. Is the position of it where massive sulphides could be preserved? Yes, tick.”

Turning pennies into prosperity 

Pike has a geologist background with over 25 years’ experience in the sector, predominantly in gold and copper, and has worked on projects from greenfields to fully becoming operational. 

He has enjoyed a stellar career including as Exploration Manager (East Coast) for Evolution Mining (ASX:EVN), Senior Exploration Geologist for Newcrest (ASX:NCM), and at Equigold. He also served as Chief Executive Officer of Santana Minerals (ASX:SMI) and Mekong Minerals.

With that experience under his belt, Pike says that has made him think conceptually and economically, when it comes to the business. 

In saying that, Pike sees Great Western’s latest work as a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

“Both of these targets, particularly Oval and Oval South, are the most exciting greenfield targets that I’ve ever had the pleasure of chasing after”

“You speak to most geologists, and everyone is after that one discovery. Both of these targets, particularly Oval and Oval South, are the most exciting greenfield targets that I’ve ever had the pleasure of chasing after,” he says. 

Pike says if the company is on the cusp of such a discovery, he would love to see the company go from “making this discovery to developing it”.

It is evident that if a discovery is made, what would come out the other end would be significantly higher than the cards already dealt to Great Western. 

Australia is ranked second globally for its copper resource, which is considered a win in its own right, and with the copper market trending at the rate it is, Great Western has a potential opportunity to contribute to the global renewable energy transition. 

Pike says various minerals and metals contribute to the transition, but “everything that stitches all this together is copper”.

Copper’s connection to clean energy is so broad, it is an essential material in many types of clean energy. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation says it is used for wind and solar technology, energy storage, and electric vehicles. 

Rolling with it

Thanks to the copper rally kicking off early this year, Great Western is well ahead of its peers, as the copper price has increased 17.88% since the beginning of 2024 peaking at $15,259.31 per tonne on 30 April 2024, as reported by the London Metal Exchange. 

The increase in price is coupled with a forecast increase in copper production. 

The federal government’s Resources and Energy Quarterly Report for March 2024, reveals that the global mined and refined copper production is expected to grow by 2.4% and 2% this year. 

This growth is expected to be driven by new greenfield projects starting, the rise in production capacity, and increasing automation of certain production processes. 

Despite the increase in production, Peak Asset Management Executive Director Niv Dagan says the refined copper market is anticipated to be in a deficit between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes in 2024. 

According to the International Copper Study Group, the global refined copper market revealed a 119,000-tonne deficit in November 2023, in comparison to a 48,000-tonne deficit the previous month.

As a result, the globe is consuming more copper than it is producing, which is likely to be driven by the renewable energy transition and electric vehicles.  

However, global copper consumption is only expected to grow, meaning that Great Western has a huge opportunity to grasp if the company’s predictions surrounding its copper-gold targets turn out to be right. 

The federal government reports global copper consumption is expected to rise by 1.3% this year, reaching 28.4 million tonnes. 

While there are not a lot of copper-focused producers listed on the ASX, Pike says where Great Western fits into the copper market is through its targets, Fairbairn and Oval/Oval South.

“We’re looking to find big copper-gold targets that are of significant size that you can do something with them. These targets are economically effective and tier one company-makers.”

Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company reports that electrification is anticipated to increase annual copper demand from 25 million tonnes to 36.6 million tonnes by 2031, with supply then forecasted to be around 30.1 million tonnes. 

As a result, this will create a shortfall at the start of the next decade of 6.5 million tonnes of copper, as reported by McKinsey & Company. 

The federal government says Australia’s mine production is projected to increase 6.2% per annum — reaching 1.160 million tonnes during 2028 and 2029. 

As Great Western is preparing to roll the dice on its most promising and potentially “company-making” targets in Western Australia, the anticipation is palpable to see if the copper-gold explorer will be one of the few ASX-listed companies contributing to this forecasted data. 

If proven, Great Western Exploration won’t be afraid to play its hand. 

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au   

Images: Great Western Exploration
Author Image
Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.