WA’s nickel explorers are spending three times more than they were just 18 months ago as investment returns to the sector.
Figures released with the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ quarterly review of exploration expenditure in Australia show $28.7 million was spent drilling for nickel-cobalt deposits in the December Quarter.
That was up from $22.4 million in the June quarter and $25.7 million in the September quarter, and marked the sixth straight quarterly rise in exploration spending on the hunt for the base metal, as well as the best quarterly return since September, 2013.
It followed a 40 per cent climb in the price of nickel across the second half of 2017, now $13,575 per tonne.
The expenditure figures were no doubt helped by the start of drilling at BHP’s Venus deposit in the northern Goldfields, and an aggressive $25 million-a-year greenfields exploration campaign Independence Group is leading around its new Nova Nickel Mine.
Interest in the metal is rising steadily because of its use in booming lithium ion batteries, which are also driving market hype around lithium itself and cobalt.
Cobalt prices climbed to about $US80,000 a tonne early this year, improving the economics for cobalt-intensive nickel deposits like Metals X’s Wingellina Nickel-Cobalt project in the Ngaanyat-jarra Lands and Ardea Resources’ Kalgoorlie Nickel Project.
Mothballed nickel miners Mincor Resources and Panoramic Resources recently raised a combined $31 million to progress nickel exploration and development.
More cash also went towards zinc and lead exploration, with the $6.5 million spent in December a seven-year-high, while copper came off from $14.5 million to $13.6 million quarter on quarter.
Combined base metals spending was up $5.9 million to $48.9 million, also the highest level since September 2013.