Although the Royal Government ministers have for months now been deliberately downplaying
Chevron's exploratory drilling for oil and gas in Block A offshore from Sihanoukville,
not so with the search for bauxite and gold in Mondulkiri underway by two Australian
Bauxite under the ground in Mondulkiri where exploratory drilling began a few months
ago could result in an investment worth "billions of U.S. dollars," Deputy
Prime Minister Sok An announced to 600 business people attending a two-day investment
conference November 9.
Prime Minister Hun Sen told the investment conference that he also had high hopes
for BHP Billiton efforts. "Cambodia has significant potential in iron, bauxite,
precious stones, gold," he said. But regarding oil, he said, "much of the
speculation is premature."
Australian mining giant BHP Billiton over the summer began what it expects to be
five years of exploratory drilling for bauxite in Mondulkiri. The company has a concession
signed a year ago by Sok An to explore 1,000 square kilometers, some still dotted
with unexploded ordinance and land mines from 40 years ago. Billiton said it is using
land mine clearance teams in the risky areas.
Bauxite ore is the unrefined component of aluminum. Billiton hopes to find enough
of it in recoverable quantities to build an alumina refinery in Mondulkiri, according
to company officials.
No details of the license agreement reached with the government have been disclosed,
and no studies have yet been done estimating what kind of revenues bauxite mining
would produce for the government of Cambodia.
Billiton officials told the Post the deal was proprietary but that a bauxite mine
involves a "very large investment" and that if the exploratory drilling
is successful, Billiton would be the operator.
Meanwhile, Australia's Oxiana Ltd., has also been quietly exploring for gold and
copper in Mondulkiri. Oxiana is operating the Sepon gold and copper mines across
the border in Laos.
"There is potential in Cambodia for minerals. We have been exploring one year.
We have nothing to announce. We are investing in exploration," said Oxiana's
He said Oxiana hopes to find a mine along the lines of its Sepon gold and copper
mines. "We want very much to find one."
Oxiana is also exploring in Thailand and has identified prospects near the Chatree
gold mine in north central Thailand where it has a joint exploration and generative
partnership where Oxiana can elect to earn up to 75% by sole funding if it decides
to mine. Other smaller gold mining companies have been also been licensed to explore
but no major discoveries have been found.
With the price of commodities at record levels on global markets, mining companies
are anxious to explore new areas that may have previously viewed as not commercially
viable. Mondulkiri, where the landmines are, could fall into that category.
Gold for example is trading at $835 an ounce on the world market, up from $635 a
The bauxite is located in some areas inhabited by Mondulkiri's hill tribes. Billiton
said in its statement that during the exploration period, the indigenous peoples
would be kept informed. Some of the concessions also border on areas with endangered
A company statement explained that the exploration teams in Mondulkiri will drill
vertical holes in the ground 200m to 800m apart during the early exploration.
"Each drill hole will be approximately 12 centimeters in diameter and after
the sample has been removed, the hole will be refilled straight away and replanted.
It is planned that a small number of pits, each two to three meters square, will
also be dug to remove a quantity of soil and bauxite for detailed analysis,"
the statement said.
"These pits will be protected while they are open and then filled in and replanted
before the team leaves the location to prevent injury to people or animals afterwards."
Generally the teams expect to drill in each area for a few hours and clean up the
area after a couple of days, but the land mines could drag the process out longer,
the company said.