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Minimum sample mass from reverse circulation grade control drilling at Rocklands copper project


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Author M G Hawtin


The Rocklands copper project is a multilode, iron oxide copper gold (IOCG) + cobalt mineralised system located in the Eastern Fold Belt of the Mt Isa Inlier. Rocklands orebodies cover a range of oxidation zones from oxide, to supergene and primary. Each zone contains different economic minerals of interest. The supergene zones contain significant amounts of native copper and the primary zones are dominated by chalcopyrite. The juxtaposition of these oxidation zones and minerals make it an interesting mineralisation system.

Current mine production sampling collects a nominal 3 kg drill chip sample from a 1 m composite, RC drilled interval. A site specific sampling procedure was needed to quantify introduced sampling error when taking grade control samples. Due to oxidation and mineralogical variation in ore zones we needed to develop a practically achievable sampling methodology that ensures minimum sample mass and sample error requirements are achieved to ensure ‘representative’ samples for all ore types.

These issues are planned to be resolved using an experimentally derived method using principles from the Theory of Sampling. This method uses an experimental calibration of parameters K and α for Gy’s fundamental sampling error formula using a modified 32-piece sampling tree experiment to compile sampling nomograms for the primary and supergene ores. This paper demonstrates the process undertaken to improve the quality and standard of existing mine production sampling procedures at the Rocklands operation.

Results indicate a sample mass of 5 kg for RC drill chips is appropriate for both the primary and supergene ores to achieve a fundamental error below 0.01 or 10 per cent relative error, which is slightly higher than the existing sampling protocol of 3 kg. An additional experiment is recommended to compile sampling nomograms using the exact laboratory comminution and mass reduction stage information to assess the use of a 3 kg sample. The results also indicate no changes are required to existing sampling protocols when sampling RC drill chips in primary and supergene ore at Rocklands.

Sampling nomogram results also provide a useful ‘rule of thumb’ reference guide to other mining and exploration companies to help understand minimum sample mass requirements and sampling error during exploration drilling, resource evaluation and mining production stages when targeting similar IOCG mineralised systems. A sample mass of 5 kg is recommended when RC drilling similarly IOCG mineralised prospects and deposits in the Cloncurry area. Future test work is recommended when additional open cuts become active as well as including resource drilling drill core to provide better three-dimensional sample representivity.


Hawtin, M G, 2017. Minimum sample mass from reverse circulation grade control drilling at Rocklands copper project, in Proceedings Tenth International Mining Geology Conference 2017, pp 337–346 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).