1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2009–10  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/2010   
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Contents >> Mining >> Profile of major minerals, oil and gas


This section is based on information from Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE).

Note: Values are given in Australian currency unless otherwise stated.


Maps 18.24, 18.25 and 18.26 show selected mines and deposits - map 18.24 covers gold and diamonds; map 18.25 covers bauxite, coal, iron ore, manganese ore and uranium; map 18.26 covers base metals (copper, zinc, lead and nickel) and mineral sands.

18.24 Selected Mines and Deposits of Gold and Diamonds-2009

18.25 Selected mines and deposits of bauxite, coal, iron ore, manganese and uranium - 2009


Bauxite, alumina and aluminium

Bauxite is a heterogeneous naturally occurring material from which alumina and aluminium are produced. The principal minerals in bauxite are gibbsite, boehmite and diaspore (which has the same composition as boehmite but is denser and harder). Bauxite is the ore from which alumina (aluminium oxide) is extracted while aluminium is produced from smelting alumina.

Australia’s aluminium industry is a large integrated industry of mining, refining, smelting and semi-fabrication, which is of major economic importance nationally and globally. Its 2008 EDR of bauxite (6 gigatonnes (Gt)) provides a world class resource base for the industry, which comprises five bauxite mines, seven alumina refineries, six primary aluminium smelters, twelve extrusion and two rolled product (sheet, plate and foil) mills. In 2007 Australia was the largest producer of bauxite and alumina.

Production in 2007 totalled 63 million tonnes (Mt) of bauxite, 20 Mt of alumina and 2 Mt of aluminium (ingot metal). Production of bauxite at Weipa in Queensland during 2007 was a record 17 Mt, an increase of 5% from 2006. This increase was mainly due to increased production from the Andoom mine north of Weipa.


Black coal is a solid rock formed from brown coal after greater heat and pressure have been applied. Black coals are distinguished by rank and may be sub-bituminous, bituminous or anthracite. Black coal is primarily used for electricity generation and the production of coke, which is integral to the production of iron and steel. Black coal is also used as a source of heat in the manufacture of cement and food processing. Brown coal is a less matured form of coal. It has a high 'in situ' moisture content (up to 60%) with a correspondingly low heating value. It is highly susceptible to spontaneous combustion. Brown coal is used widely for power generation, is made into briquettes, and can be converted to liquid or gaseous fuels.

In December 2007 there were 118 operating black coal mines in Australia which included 74 open cut mines and 44 underground mines. The bulk of the mines were in New South Wales (62) and Queensland (49). Most of the coal was produced in New South Wales (41%) and Queensland (56%), with locally significant operations at Collie (Western Australia), Leigh Creek (South Australia) and in the Fingal Valley (Tasmania).

In 2007-08 Australia produced 417 Mt of raw black coal (414 Mt in 2006-07) which yielded 325 Mt of saleable coal (324 Mt in 2006-07). Exports of black coal for 2007-08 comprised 137 Mt of metallurgical coal valued at $16 billion and 115 Mt of thermal coal valued at $8 billion.

Australia has 6% of the world’s recoverable black coal EDR (as at the end of 2008) and ranks sixth behind the United States of America (31%), Russia (21%), China (13%), India (8%) and South Africa (7%).

Australia produced about 6% of the world’s black coal in 2007 and ranked fourth after China (45%), the United States of America (18%) and India (8%).

Australian brown coal production for 2006-07, all of which was from Victoria, was 66 Mt with a value of around $820 million. The La Trobe Valley mines of Yallourn, Hazelwood and Loy Yang in Victoria produce about 98% of Australia’s brown coal.

Australia has about 25% of world recoverable brown coal EDR and is ranked first. It produces, however, only about 8% of the world’s brown coal and is ranked the fifth largest producer after Germany (21%), the United States of America (9%), Russia (9%), and Greece (8%).


Copper occurs in various forms. It can occur naturally in its pure state (native copper) but is principally mined as chalcopyrite. Copper is one of the most important and widely used metals of modern society due to its properties of:
  • high electrical and heat conductivity
  • ductility and malleability
  • resistance to corrosion
  • ability to form alloys with other metals.

These properties enable copper to be used in a wide range of applications. The largest use of copper is in the electrical industry where copper wire and cable account for about half of the world’s copper production. Other major markets are the motor vehicle and construction sectors. Copper is also an integral part of the expanding information technology sector and is used in the manufacture of computers, mobile phones, fax machines and televisions.

Major Australian copper mining and smelting operations are at Olympic Dam (South Australia) and Mt Isa (Queensland), with smaller projects in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. Australia’s EDR of copper at the end of 2008 was 78 Mt, giving it the world’s second largest holding of copper EDR with 13% of the total.

Mine production of copper in 2007 was 871 kilotonnes (kt) of contained copper, similar to that in 2006 (875 kt). Queensland dominated Australian production with 376 kt (largely from Mt Isa). This was 7% more than in 2006. South Australia regained the second largest producer position over New South Wales despite a decrease of 3% to 179 kt. Olympic Dam produced all of South Australia’s output, contributing 21% of national production. New South Wales produced 168 kt in 2007, 19% less than in 2006 and mostly from Cadia Ridgeway and Northparkes. Western Australia produced 118 kt, up 14%, and Tasmania produced 30 kt, down 3%.

As a producer, Australia's copper mine production ranked fifth in the world in 2007, with 6% of world output, after Chile (37%), the United States of America and Peru (both 8%) and China (6%).


Diamond is composed of carbon, and is the hardest known natural substance, although a sharp blow can shatter it. Diamonds occur naturally but are extremely rare compared with other minerals. Diamonds are thought to form deep in the earth at high temperatures and pressures and are carried to the surface or near surface by volcanic rocks in narrow cylinder-like bodies called 'pipes'. A large proportion of industrial diamond is manufactured, and it is also possible to produce synthetic diamonds of gem quality. Uses for diamonds include jewellery, computer chip manufacture, drill bit facing, and stone cutting and polishing. A diamond's mass is measured by carat weight, with one carat (c) defined as 0.2 grams.

Australia produced 19 million carats (Mc) of diamonds in 2007, making it the world's fourth largest producer of diamonds by weight after Russia, Botswana and Congo. It is the third largest producer of industrial grade diamonds after Congo and Russia, and the fourth largest producer of natural gem/cheap gem diamonds after Russia, Botswana and Canada.

Australia's EDR at the end of 2008 of gem/near gem diamonds was 92 Mc and industrial diamonds 96 Mc. Australia's EDR of industrial diamonds is ranked third in the world, with 16% of world EDR.

Australian production was almost entirely from Rio Tinto Ltd’s Argyle mine in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, which produced 19 Mc. Argyle production is mostly industrial and cheap diamonds. Due to lower grades, production was 36% less than in 2006 despite a 2% increase in the volume of ore treated. Production from the Ellendale mine in the West Kimberley region increased to 475,735 c in 2007, up from 213,000 c in the previous year. Ellendale is noted for high-value fancy yellow gem diamonds.

Gold has a range of uses but the two principal applications are as an investment instrument and in the manufacture of jewellery. Secondary uses, in terms of the amount of gold consumed, are in electronic and dental applications.

Gold resources occur and are mined in all Australian states and the Northern Territory. Australia’s EDR of gold (at the end of 2008) was 6,255 tonnes, the second largest in the world after South Africa.

Australian gold mine production in 2007 (reported by ABARE) was 245 tonnes. This level of production made Australia the third largest mine producing country in the world in 2007, after China (281 tonnes) and South Africa (270 tonnes). Australia’s largest producer in 2007 was the Telfer operation in Western Australia where 19 tonnes (0.62 million ounces) was produced. Telfer was followed by the Super Pit at Kalgoorlie where production was almost 19 tonnes (0.61 million ounces) and Sunrise Dam which produced just under 19 tonnes (0.60 million ounces). In 2007, Western Australia dominated Australian production with 155 tonnes, just under two-thirds of total Australian output.

Iron ore

Iron ore is the source of primary iron for the world's steel industries. Around 97% of Australian iron ore production occurs in the Hamersley Basin (Western Australia). Small production also comes from elsewhere in Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales. Australia’s EDR in 2007 was about 13% of world EDR. Western Australia has almost all (99%) of Australia's EDR with about 89% occurring in the Pilbara district. In 2007 Australia was ranked as having the fourth largest iron ore holding in the world, after Ukraine (19%), Russia (16%) and China (14%).

Australia's production of iron ore in 2007 (reported by ABARE) was 299 Mt, which was around 18% of the world's iron ore, making Australia the world's third largest producer after Brazil (22%) and China (20%).

Manganese ore

About 90% of the world's production of manganese is used in the desulphurisation and strengthening of steel. Other uses include the manufacture of dry batteries, as a colorant, and as an ingredient in plant fertilisers and animal feed. Manganese ore was mined in the Northern Territory and Western Australia in 2007.

Production of manganese ore in 2007 reached 5 Mt, 15% of world manganese ore output, making Australia third behind China (23%) and South Africa (21%). Australian production comes from three mines - Woodie Woodie (Western Australia) and Groote Eylandt and Bootu Creek (both in the Northern Territory). Australia’s EDR of manganese ore, at 181 Mt (at the end of 2008) is 13% of world EDR.

Mineral sands

The three main minerals mined from Australian mineral sands deposits are the titanium-bearing minerals rutile and ilmenite and the zirconium-bearing mineral zircon. Rutile and ilmenite are used mainly in the production of titanium dioxide pigment. A small portion, less than 4% of total titanium mineral production and typically rutile, is used in making titanium sponge metal. Zircon is used to make glazes on ceramic tiles opaque, and is used in refractories and the foundry industry.

Australia’s EDR of ilmenite at the end of 2008 was 212 Mt. About 56% is in Western Australia, 22% in Queensland and the rest in Victoria (11%), New South Wales (7%), and South Australia (3%). Australia accounts for 17% (the second largest holding behind China at 30%) of the world’s EDR of ilmenite. India has 13%, South Africa 9%, and Brazil 6% of the world's ilmenite EDR.

Victoria has the largest share of Australia’s rutile EDR with 33%, followed by Queensland (25%), New South Wales (20%), Western Australia (18%) and South Australia (3%). According to Geoscience Australia and United States Geological Survey (USGS) data, Australia has the world’s largest EDR of rutile (50%), followed by South Africa (18%) and India (16%). At the end of 2008 Australia's EDR of rutile was 23 Mt.

Australia's EDR for zircon at the end of 2008 was 39 Mt, with Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland holding around 76% of Australia's zircon EDR. In world terms, Australia has the world's largest EDR of zircon, with 45%.

Although Australia has substantial EDR of mineral sands, Geoscience Australia estimates that around 16% of ilmenite, 25% of rutile and 21% of zircon EDR is unavailable for mining, as they in areas quarantined from mining that are largely incorporated into national parks. Deposits in this category include Moreton Island, Bribie Island and Fraser Island, the Cooloola sand mass, the Byfield sand mass and the Shoalwater Bay area (all areas in Queensland), and the Yuraygir, Bundjalung, Hat Head and Myall Lakes National Parks in New South Wales.

In 2007 Australia produced 2 Mt of ilmenite, 312 kt of rutile and 601 kt of zircon. About 875 kt of ilmenite was exported during 2007, as well as 345 kt of rutile and 610 kt of zircon from production and stockpiles. The ilmenite not exported was upgraded to synthetic rutile, with Australia producing 726 kt of this commodity.

Australia was the largest producer of ilmenite with 22% of world production, followed by South Africa with 19%, as well as being the largest producer of rutile with about 53%, followed by South Africa with 20% and Sierra Leone with 14%. Australia was also the largest producer of zircon with 47% of world production, followed by South Africa at 31%.

More than 80% of nickel production is used in alloys. When alloyed (mixed) with other elements, nickel imparts toughness, strength, resistance to corrosion and various electrical, magnetic and heat resistant properties. About 65% of world nickel output is consumed in the manufacture of stainless steel which is used widely in the chemical industry, motor vehicles, the construction industry and in consumer products such as sinks, cooking utensils, cutlery and white-goods.

Australia's EDR of nickel was 26 Mt at the end of 2008. Western Australia has the largest nickel resources, with more than 90% of total Australian EDR. Australia holds the largest share of the world’s EDR (38% in 2007), followed by New Caledonia and Russia (both 10%) and Cuba (8%).

ABARE reported that Australia's nickel mine production in 2007 was 184 kt, all of which came from Western Australia. The value of all nickel products exported was almost $8b. Australia was the world’s third largest producer in 2007 (nickel content of all ores and concentrates), accounting for 11% of estimated world nickel mine production. Russia was the largest producer with 288 kt (18% of world output), followed by Canada with 255 kt (16%), Indonesia with 188 kt (12%), Australia, and New Caledonia with an output of 125 kt (8%).


Tantalum minerals have more than 70 different chemical compositions, of which tantalite, microlite, and wodginite are of greatest economic importance.

The world’s largest tantalum resource holder is Brazil with an estimated 88 kt, followed by Australia with 42 kt (deposits at Greenbushes and Wodgina in south west Western Australia) and Canada with 3 kt.

Australia is the world’s largest producer of tantalum, in the form of tantalum concentrates. World tantalum production in 2007 was estimated by Geoscience Australia (using Western Australian Department of Industry and Resources and USGS data) to be 985 tonnes. Production was dominated by Australia, with 435 tonnes in 2007, which amounted to about 44% of world output. According to the USGS, other main producers were Brazil with 250 tonnes, and Mozambique, Canada and Ethiopia, each producing 70 tonnes.


Major uses for uranium are as fuel in nuclear power reactors to generate electricity, in the manufacture of radioisotopes for medical applications and in nuclear science research using neutrons from reactors.

Australia had 1,163 kt of uranium in Reasonably Assured Resources recoverable at costs of less than US$80/kilogram of uranium at the end of 2008, representing around 34% of world resources in this category. Approximately 95% of Australia’s total uranium resources in EDR are within the following six deposits:
  • Olympic Dam (South Australia) which is the world’s largest uranium deposit
  • Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra in the Alligator Rivers region (Northern Territory)
  • Kintyre and Yeelirrie (Western Australia).

Approximately 16% of uranium EDR is inaccessible for mining.

Three uranium mines operated in 2007 - Ranger open cut, Olympic Dam underground mine, and the Beverley (South Australia) in situ leach operations. In 2007, Ranger produced 5,412 tonnes of uranium oxide, Olympic Dam 3,985 tonnes and Beverley 748 tonnes for a total of 10,145 tonnes, 13% higher than for 2006. Australia, with approximately 20% of world uranium production in 2007, is the world’s second largest producer after Canada.

Exports of uranium oxide in 2007-08 were 10,139 tonnes, valued at $887m. Exports of Australian uranium are controlled by stringent safeguard conditions which ensure that Australia's uranium is used only for peaceful purposes and does not enhance or contribute to any military applications. These conditions are given effect through bilateral safeguards agreements between Australia and the importing country. In the case of non-nuclear-weapon countries, it is a minimum requirement that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards apply to all existing and future nuclear activities in that country. In the case of countries with nuclear weapons, there must be treaty-level assurance that Australian uranium will be used only for peaceful purposes and it must be subject to that country's safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

Australian mining companies supply uranium under long-term contracts to electricity utilities in the United States of America, Japan, South Korea and Canada as well as members of the European Union including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, and Finland.Zinc, lead, silver

Zinc is the 23rd most abundant element in the earth's crust and the fourth most common metal in use after iron, aluminium and copper. The construction, appliance and vehicle manufacturing industries use large amounts of zinc, mainly as coatings on steel beams, sheet steel and vehicle panels in the automotive industry. The widespread use of zinc as a protective coating is due mainly to its resistance to normal weathering. This is an electrochemical reaction known as galvanic action. Zinc is used also in brass, alloy die cast precision components, pigments, salts, as oxide additives to rubber and for agricultural chemicals as well as for wrought or rolled products.

The widespread occurrence, relatively simple extraction, and combination of desirable properties have made lead useful to humans since at least 5,000 BC. In deposits mined today, lead (in the form of galena) is usually associated with zinc, silver and commonly copper, and is extracted as a co-product of these metals. More than half of the lead currently used comes from recycling, rather than mining. The largest use is in batteries for vehicles and communications. Less important uses include cable sheathing, solder, casting alloys, chemical compounds, ammunition, ceramics and glass in TV and computer screens for radiation protection. Uses for lead could increase in the future in large storage batteries used for load-levelling of electrical power and in electric vehicles.

The relative scarcity, attractive appearance and malleability of silver has made it suitable for use in jewellery, ornaments and silverware. Its extensive use in coins throughout history has declined over the past 40 years. In Australia, the 1966 fifty-cent piece was the last coin in general use to contain silver (80% silver, 20% copper). Silver is mined and produced mainly as a co-product of copper, lead, zinc, and to a lesser extent, gold. Currently, photographic paper and film followed by the electronics and jewellery/tableware industries are the most important users of silver. Other uses include mirrors, as an anti-bacterial agent, for example in water treatment (as an ioniser with copper in domestic swimming pools) and for biocide and bacteriostatic activity in plastic and textiles formulations.

Australian EDR of zinc at the end of 2008 was 53 Mt, with Queensland holding the largest resource. Northern Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia also have zinc EDR.

Australia’s EDR of 27 Mt of lead is around 30% of world EDR. Queensland has around 67% of total Australian EDR. Other holdings are in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia.

EDR for silver at the end of 2008 was 61 Kt, with Queensland having the largest share at around 65%. Other holdings occur in South Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia.

Based on USGS data for other countries, Australia has the world’s largest EDR of zinc (24%) and lead (30%), and the second largest EDR of silver (17%).

Mine production of zinc, lead and silver in 2007 was 1.51 Mt, 0.64 Mt and 1.88 Mt respectively. Compared to 2006, production in 2007 increased by 152 kt or 11% for zinc and by 151 tonnes or 9% for silver, but was down by 27 kt or 4% for lead. The majority of production was from Queensland which contributed 879 kt or 58% to national zinc production for 2007, along with 460 kt or 72% of lead and 1.5 kt or 81% of silver. The Century zinc mine which is located approximately 250 kilometres north of Mt Isa, close to the Gulf of Carpentaria in north west Queensland ranks second globally in zinc production. The Cannington mine, also located in north west Queensland, is the world’s largest and lowest cost single mine producer of both silver and lead and a significant producer of zinc.

In terms of world mine production of silver in 2007, Australia ranked second for lead and zinc after China and fifth for silver after Peru, Mexico, China and Chile.

Oil and gas

Map 18.27 shows significant oil and gas production, locations, oil and gas pipelines and oil refineries.


Crude oil and condensate

In 2007-08 production of total crude oil and condensate from the North West Shelf (off Western Australia) and the Gippsland Basin (Victoria) accounted for 39% and 92% respectively of total Australian crude oil and condensate production. The North West Shelf was the major producer of condensate during 2007-08 with 80% of total Australian production sourced from that region.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

Australia is a major exporter of LNG with contracts currently in place to supply gas to Japan, China and South Korea. Australian export of LNG in 2007-08 was 15 Mt, a fall of 3% over the previous year. Export earnings from LNG in 2007-08 were $6b, an increase of $0.6b on 2007-08.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)

LPG is a valuable co-product of oil and gas production and petroleum refining. The major constituents of LPG are propane and iso- and normal-butane, which are gaseous at normal temperatures and pressures, and are easily liquefied at moderate pressures or reduced temperatures. Operations involving LPG are expensive in relation to other liquid fuels because LPG has to be refrigerated or pressurised when transported and stored. LPG is an alternative transport fuel for high mileage vehicles in urban areas, as well as a petrochemical feedstock and domestic fuel.

In 2007-08 the major producers were the Gippsland Basin and the North West Shelf, accounting for 47% and 38% of total production respectively.

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