A few days after returning to Melbourne, I got into a conversation with Edgar Muceniekas, the geochemist who expanded the soil sampling to the whole Kawerong valley after Ken Phillips’ initial creek sampling at Panguna.
(Edgar also introduced me to my wife and was my best man at our wedding.)
“Panguna is fabulous! The whole Kawerong valley is mineralized!” I voiced my enthusiastic opinion.
“Nonsense!” Edgar responded. “The grade is too low to be economic.”
“But the Panguna Antap ridge has copper values of one percent and more!”.
“Sure, and think of all the low-grade dirt you’d have to remove to get at it. It’s just not there!”
Edgar had a point. The estimated grades in the surrounding country were a little too low. It wouldn’t pay to process it. It would all have to be scraped up and dumped in the jungle somewhere.
So, that was it. Forget Panguna. Go look some place else for copper.
CRA was also nervous about Panguna for another reason. A mining operation would have a seriously disruptive effect on Bougainville culture and their traditional way of life.
When the rock samples taken from drill cores were assayed, the actual grades were consistently higher than the geologists’ estimates. Further, the samples contained small quantities of invisible, disseminated gold. The combined copper and gold values in the lower grade parts of the Kawerong valley were high enough to pay for removing and processing them — IF very large scale mining methods were used.
So, Panguna was to become the largest mining operation in the world, for twenty years. And one of the most profitable.