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Exploration is a key component of Iluka's resource development activities. The company has been successfully exploring for mineral sands deposits in Australia for over 70 years. 

The exploration programme focuses on finding new deposits to grow its mining and processing business.  If you'd like to learn more about Iluka's operations please visit our operations and resource development page

The exploration process

Finding mineral sands deposits involves research, license applications, access negotiations, a variety of different surveys (including heritage), drilling, sampling and analysis, resource estimation and financial evaluation. The entire exploration process can take many years to complete, but it is the foundation data on which Iluka’s feasibility studies are considered and initiated. Large economically viable deposits are scarce and in the mineral sands industry, less than one in a thousand targets identified becomes a mine.

Exploration is only undertaken when the relevant legal conditions of the state or country in which the work is to be conducted are fulfilled. Key stages of the exploration process are:

  • Field - review field inspections to identify the most likely districts for the formation of mineral sand deposits.
  • Sensing - remote sensing using aerial geophysical surveys, satellite imagery, Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) and topographic images.
  • Drilling - drilling to collect samples from areas Iluka has negotiated access to via exploration licenses or agreements.
  • Laboratory - analysis of samples to assess the mineral content and quality and any other relevant characteristics.
  • Modelling - extensive computer modelling and evaluation of data to establish the physical and commercial viability of each deposit.


A variety of drilling methods are used during exploration depending on the terrain and surface to be drilled. Iluka often uses an aircore drill rig as it is small, mobile off road and designed to cause minimal impact. Typically drill rigs are mounted on a lightweight 4WD, small truck or tracked vehicle. The diameter of each drill hole is usually less than 100mm and the depth varies depending on the location of the mineral deposit. 

Exploration Locations

To see the mining licence areas around your location, visit: Earth Resources - Mining Licences Near Me


Exploration in geological terms refers to a wide range of activities which aim to discover minerals and establish the location, significance and extent of their presence. Exploration aims to increase the understanding of minerals at the specific location, especially determining if there is sufficient quantity and quality for mining to be economically viable.

For a business like Iluka, an Exploration Licence secures the right to explore for minerals, but not to mine or sell those minerals. Before granting or renewing an Exploration Licence, the Department for Energy and Mining assesses the exploration company’s proposed work program to determine whether the company has the experience and funds necessary.

The requirements for access to land for exploration are set out in the relevant state legislation. Iluka must negotiate an agreement directly with the landowner that includes the conditions of entry, and also serve a notice of entry at least 21 days prior to commencing exploration activities.  

An exploration licence or a mineral claim does not give Iluka the right to carry out exploration activities on land on which Native Title is held.
Most states have specific legislation that sets out Native Title requirements for mineral exploration. Activities that affect Native Title may only be undertaken if they are authorised by a Native Title Agreement (if applicable) or an Indigenous Land Use Agreement registered under the Commonwealth Native Title Act. Where Iluka’s proposed exploration activities affect Native Title, Iluka has negotiated a Native Title Exploration Agreement.

If an Aboriginal site or object is discovered, any work that may impact the site or object must be stopped and everything left in place. Iluka is required to comply with the relevant state Aboriginal Heritage legislation, which protects all Aboriginal sites, objects and remains. In all Australian states and territories it is an offence to damage, disturb or interfere with an Aboriginal site, objects or remains without authorisation from the relevant authority.

Iluka explores for mineral sand ore bodies. Zircon, rutile and ilmenite are all types of mineral sands mined and processed by Iluka. Once drilling is complete, samples are taken and assessed in a laboratory to determine if they contain mineral sands. Mineral sands are products that are used in paint, ceramic tiles, water filtration, food, plastics and paper. To find out more about Iluka's products visit products-markets.

Drilling normally takes between 14 to 21 days. The length of time can vary due to the location, land access arrangements, weather, cultural, pastoral or community activities. It may also be impacted by commercial activities, like securing a drill rig or other necessary equipment.
Iluka plans drilling work to ensure it has minimal impact on surrounding communities. Prior to drilling, we spend time in the community doing preliminary fieldwork and meeting with stakeholders.

Iluka’s field exploration team operates in a manner to ensure minimal impact and disturbance to land owners, community and the environment. If you do see us, we are usually a crew of four to five people, operating about four vehicles.

Drill rig - We use a small, mobile, off road drill rig mounted on a four wheel drive or small truck. It is managed by our contractor Wallis Drilling.

Support vehicle – Carries personnel and cargo required to safely perform drilling operations.

Logging vehicle – Used by the Geologist on site to pan for samples as they are taken from the earth.

Other – Depending on the area being explored, we may have extra vehicles or a trailer for moving crew or other items. In some cases we may have a small bobcat on site.

Iluka sometimes uses contractors to perform specialist tasks, such as drilling. Iluka employees are always on site during operations to supervise the work. This is an Iluka requirement and also a regulatory requirement.
The Activity Manager, an Iluka employee, is responsible for overseeing the exploration program. This includes program planning, monitoring works and managing contractors.

On site work is supervised and managed by an Iluka Responsible Person. This can be the Activity Manger or another Iluka employee. This role ensures compliance with our health, safety, environment and community standards and external regulations.

Iluka assesses noise and dust prior to any work commencing and will work closely with neighbours to ensure any impacts are managed appropriately.

Drilling does create noise. This is constantly monitored to ensure it is safe for our crew and the surrounding areas. Regulations state that exploration activities must not occur within 400m of a place of residence. Iluka always ensures that this buffer zone is maintained.

Drilling does create dust. Excessive dust can indicate clay or rock, which is not a target for our exploration program. We target sands, which create less dust while drilling. Iluka injects water into the drill to suppress dust as much as possible.

Iluka is bound by strict environmental conditions that accompany the grant of an exploration licence. These are specific to each state and ensures we identify all environmental impacts that may result from the proposed exploration activities.

Iluka will assess each site prior to starting work and rehabilitate it after our drilling program is complete, in line with regulatory standards. All rehabilitation is monitored to ensure compliance.

Iluka assesses the risk of intersecting groundwater during all proposed drilling activities. Iluka acts in accordance with advice from relevant Environment and Water authorities and has control strategies in place to prevent cross contamination of confined aquifers.

If you'd like to know more about the exploration happening in your area please contact us on 1800 305 993 or at [email protected]. You can also post a comment or question at the bottom of this page and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

If you have a grievance or complaint you can contact our 24/7 community line on where it is possible to remain anonymous. Alternatively you can email us at [email protected] or leave a comment in the feedback section on this page.