Exploration activity overview
Ethiopian mining has seen a flurry of exploration activity in recent years. With reforms implemented to the exploration licensing application and approval processes, a more streamlined and rigorous approach is available to investors looking to explore Ethiopia’s potential. The 2018-2019 period in particular saw a dramatic increase in the number of licenses issued, with 66% of these new mining licenses held by international investors.
The map below shows all mining licences (indicated in dark blue) held in the country, as of February 2020. It can be seen that the majority of licences are held in the north and west.
Modern, commercial gold exploration in Ethiopia was begun tentatively in 1979 by the USSR, with further work done in the 1980s by the Government’s own Geological Survey Department. But it was a substantial Norwegian-Ethiopian collaboration that took place from 1996 to 2001 which delivered a meaningful step forward. This project undertook geological mapping on both a large and small scale, as well as geophysical and geochemical surveys. It revealed numerous gold showings in western Ethiopia and a follow-up project with detailed mapping. Stream sediment sampling and diamond drilling was also undertaken.
Ethiopia’s gold deposits are clustered in a Proterozoic basement, which covers about 18% of the country. A considerable part of this area has already been surveyed by aerial geophysical surveys and geochemical mapping. Good news for investors is that significant gold mineralization has been found in three regions:
- The Western greenstone belts
- The Northern greenstone belts
- The Southern greenstone belts
There are additional opportunities for investors in epithermal gold. The East African Rift Valley transecting Ethiopia hosts a large number of geothermal fields which are used for power generation, and a low grade epithermal gold deposit was discovered at Tendaho in the Afar region. Geothermal drilling revealed highly silicified zones returning gold grades of 1 gram per tonne. Currently, investors are intensively exploring to better define the pockets of epithermal gold around the northern part of the country.
The map below illustrates both gold exploration and gold mining in Ethiopia as of February 2020. The host geology for gold deposits is shown too, with metavolcano sedimentary rocks dominating:
Ethiopia’s newly discovered gemstone deposits are ripe for commercial exploitation. Limited geological and geochemical work in the belt to define the mode of occurrence means that the field is wide open for investors to bring these extraordinary gemstones to a global market:
Potash and other industrial minerals exploration
Ethiopia hosts the following known quantities of industrial minerals.
Fertiliser Raw Minerals:
- Potash: billion tonnes & Phosphate: more than 200MT
Cement Raw Minerals:
- Limestone, Gypsum, Clay, Pumice
Ceramics Raw Minerals:
- Kaolin: 20Mt, Feldspar: 500000t
Glass Raw Minerals:
- Silica Sand: more than 3.4Mt
- Marble, Granite, Limestone, Sandstone: in the million tonnes range.
- Diatomite:120Mt, Bentonite: 172Mt, Soda ash: 460Mt, Salt: 4.3Bt,
- Graphite: 460000t, Sulphur: 6Mt
Of particular focus for many are Ethiopia’s potash opportunities. Today, potash is primarily used in fertilizers, and rising demand from China and Asia is set to drive the market in the coming years.
The Danakil Depression lies at the junction of three tectonic plates, and was formed as a result of the African and Asian continents moving apart. This caused rifting and volcanic activity, resulting in its complex and alluring geology. The salt formations on the surface cover an area of about 450 square miles, but only a small part of this area has been explored. One can see on Mount Dallol colourful layers of salt about 20 or 30 centimetres thick, with thin clay and gypsum layers in between, lying exposed to the air.
Not only is the Danakil Depression the hottest place on Earth in terms of year-round average temperatures, but it is also one of the lowest – sitting 100 metres below current sea level. Past exploration undertaken by various companies has confirmed the presence of two ore bodies at Dallol.
In southern Ethiopia, right on the Kenyan border, sits the Moyale deposit with an estimated reserve of 460,000 tons of well crystalised and flaky graphite. Most likely of sedimentary origin, the graphite in the Moyale area is hosted by quartz-feldspar-mica schist and quartzite which form continuous bodies extending for hundreds of meters. Studies have shown Moyale’s graphite content to be moderate, but generally fine-grained.
The gold and base metal bearing belts in the Adola region in eastern Ethiopia, and others in the west and the north of the country are also all known to contain graphite. Several long belts of graphitic schist extend for many kilometers through the Adola region, specifically in the Bekeka, Kenticha, Kibre
Mengist-Chembi and Chembi areas. The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP), together with a university-industry linkage, is currently undertaking a study to better qualify parts of these graphite resources.
Solid geodata to support exploration
Exploration is so much easier with solid geodata, a top priority for the Geological Survey of Ethiopia (GSE).Several reforms in the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum are focussed on strengthening the generation and dissemination of geoscience data, which is so critical for mineral exploration and investment promotion. As part of the MomP’s “one-door” policy, efforts to consolidate, simplify and improve the accessibility of information for public and private sector stakeholders with regards to key information and geospatial information are a priority. This has also been identified as a priority area in the Government’s Home Grown Reform Agenda.
There are two easily accessible online mining data repositories for investors.
The first is the MoMP’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) portal. This is where the MoMP houses:
- Completed reports
- Progress reports, and
- High resolution maps
In total there are over 5000 items in the GIS portal, all of them searchable.
The second is the Mining Cadastre Portal. An efficient, functioning, transparent and user-friendly cadastre system is vital to supporting mining investment. Once you have navigated to the Cadastre portal, you can click on a licenses on the map to view detailed information. You can also use the search functionality to search by license code, owner or license type.