Now it looks like all the big miners want a piece of the Northern Territory's Beetaloo.
Just weeks after Prime Minister Scott Morrison focussed the nation's attention on the Beetaloo's shale gas potential, Australia's biggest miner BHP has bought into a possible copper find in the south-west corner of the Beetaloo.
Exploration company Encounter Resources Ltd told the Australian Stock Exchange today it had signed a deal with BHP on the copper prospect.
The copper excitement hinges on some rock chips brought up during water bore drilling but mostly a "groundwater anomaly" found during an aerial electromagnetic survey and some surface samples.
Encounter Resources has a 4500 square kilometre "Elliott" copper search area in the Beetaloo.
Origin Energy announced this week it has restarted its testing of a deep exploration well into the Beetaloo's shale rock layers near Daly Waters.
The option deal gives BHP the choice to earn up to a 75 per cent stake in the project, following a validation program slated to be completed before the end of the year.
If BHP is happy with the "validation" it can take over as manager of the project as early as next year.
The miners are all encouraged by Geoscience Australia research which mapped vast areas of northern Australia in the world's largest airborne electromagnetic survey.
There are plans for new gold mines in the Tennant Creek area also as a result of this research.
Encounter Resources says at Elliott copper was detected in the aerial survey via a "groundwater anomaly" which it says is supported by surface geochemical sampling.
In another search area called Jessica east of Tennant Creek, copper oxide (malachite) minerals were found in rock chips brought up by water bore drilling.
Encounter also fully-owns five other copper projects in the Northern Territory: the Jessica, Carrara, Playford and Sandover projects.
Together, they cover 10,300 sq km of land surrounded and are by other projects, including the Tennant Creek copper-gold mine and Century zinc mine in Queensland.
More reading: Gold the focus of new Barkly miners.
Encounter managing director Will Robinson said: "New data has shone a light on the potential for copper to be found under shallow cover in the Northern Territory.
"Encounter moved early and aggressively to secure first mover opportunities in this new frontier.
"We are delighted to be teaming up with BHP in the search for Tier 1 copper deposits at Elliott. We look forward to working alongside the highly respected BHP exploration team to validate this compelling opportunity."
The company says the Beetaloo Basin is part of the Greater McArthur Superbasin which hosts the giant sediment-hosted zinc-lead mine at McArthur River.
"The basin contains thick, petroleum bearing, reduced sediments which are an ideal trap sequence and structural setting for major sediment hosted base metal deposits," the company told the ASX.
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