1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2008  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/02/2008   
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Contents >> Mining >> Profile of major minerals, oil and gas


This section is based on information contributed by Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) (September 2007).

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 and mineral sands.

18.24 Selected mines and deposits of gold and diamonds - 2006
Diagram: 18.24 Selected mines and deposits of gold and diamonds—2006

18.25 Selected mines and deposits of bauxite, coal, iron ore, manganese and uranium - 2006
Diagram: 18.25 Selected mines and deposits of bauxite, coal, iron ore, manganese and uranium—2006

18.26 Selected mines and deposits of base metals and mineral sands - 2006
Diagram: 18.26 Selected mines and deposits of base metals and mineral sands—2006

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 EDR of bauxite (5.7 gigatonnes (Gt)) provide 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 2006 Australia was the largest producer of bauxite and alumina.

Production in 2006 totalled 64.0 million tonnes (Mt) of bauxite, 18.47 Mt of alumina and 1.9 Mt of aluminium (ingot metal). Compared with 2005 these represented an increase of 6.7% for bauxite, 4.0% for alumina with no change for aluminium.

In 2006 production of bauxite at Weipa (Queensland) was a record 16.1 Mt, an increase of 4% from 2005. This increase was due to increased production from both the East Weipa and Andoom mines.


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.

Although coal mining occurred in all states in 2006, New South Wales and Queensland produced over 96% of all black coal (anthracite, bituminous and sub-bituminous coals) and Victoria produced all the brown coal (lignite). Australia’s EDR of recoverable black coal is 39.6 Gt, which is about 5% of total world EDR making Australia’s holdings the sixth largest in the world. EDR of recoverable brown coal is 37.3 Gt, which gives Australia the largest holding in the world and accounts for 24% of world EDR. All EDR is located in Victoria and about 90% is located in the La Trobe Valley.Australia's coal production and exports have risen strongly over the last two decades. Output of saleable black coal at 302.0 Mt was down 1.0 Mt on 2005 production. Australia produces about 6% of the world’s black coal and in 2006 was the fourth largest producer after China (45%), the United States of America (19%) and India (8%). Brown coal production reached 67.7 Mt in 2005-06. Australia was the world’s fifth largest producer of brown coal with about 8% of production.


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
  • ductile and malleable
  • resistant 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 is 42.4 Mt giving it the world’s second largest holding of copper EDR with 9% of the total.

Mine production of copper in 2006 was 875 kt of contained copper, 5% lower than in 2005 (921 kt). Queensland dominates Australian production with 353 kt (largely from Mt Isa), although this was 12% less than in 2005 (399 kt). New South Wales surpassed South Australia as the second largest producer with 210 kt (up 11%). The remaining production occurred in South Australia (183 kt), Western Australia (98 kt) and Tasmania (31 kt). As a producer, Australia ranks fourth, with 6% of world output, after Chile (35%), the United States of America (8%) and Peru (7%).Diamond

Diamond is composed of carbon, and is the hardest known natural substance, but 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 diamond include jewellery, computer chip manufacture, drill bit facing, and stone cutting and polishing.

Australia produced 29.3 million carats (Mc) of diamond in 2006, making it the world's fourth largest producer of diamond by weight after Russia, Botswana and the Congo. It is the equal second largest producer of industrial-grade diamond alongside Russia and after the Congo and the third largest producer of gem/near gem diamond after Botswana and Russia.

Australia's EDR of gem/near gem diamonds is 109.9 Mc and industrial diamonds 114.3 Mc. Australia's EDR of industrial diamond is ranked third in the world, with 19% of world EDR.

The majority of Australian production was from the Argyle mine in the Kimberley region of Western Australia which produced 29.1 Mc of mostly industrial and near gem diamonds in 2006. Argyle production was 5% lower than in 2005 due to mining constraints within the deepening open pit.


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 is 5,480 tonnes, the second largest in the world after South Africa.

Australian gold production in 2006 (reported by ABARE) was 245 tonnes. This level of production makes Australia the third largest producer in the world after South Africa (275 tonnes) and the United States of America (253 tonnes). The Super Pit at Kalgoorlie (Western Australia) continued to be the largest producer with an output of nearly 21.0 tonnes (0.68 million ounces) but it was followed closely by the Telfer mine, also in Western Australia with 20.5 tonnes (0.66 million ounces). Western Australia dominated production in 2006 with just over two-thirds (165 tonnes) of total Australian production.Iron ore

Iron ore is the source of primary iron for the world's steel industries. Over 97% of 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 of iron ore is 18.6 Gt which is about 11% of world EDR. Western Australia has almost all of Australia's EDR with about 89% occurring in the Pilbara district. Australia has the fifth largest iron ore holding in the world.

Australia's production of iron ore in 2006 (reported by ABARE) was 275.1 Mt, which was 16% of world output, making Australia the world's third largest producer after China and Brazil.

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 2006.

Production reached 4.6 Mt, 14% of world output, making Australia the third largest producer in the world. Australian production is 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 139 Mt, is 12% of world EDR, fourth largest in the world.

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 as an opacifier for glazes on ceramic tiles, and is used in refractories and the foundry industry. Production in 2005 was from Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales.

Australia’s EDR of ilmenite is 218.5 Mt of which 59% is in Western Australia, 26% in Queensland and the rest in New South Wales (6%), Victoria (6%) and South Australia (3%) and a small quantity (less than 1%) in the Northern Territory. Australia accounts for 19% (the second largest holding behind China at 34%) of the world’s EDR of ilmenite. Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria together hold 97% of Australia’s 21.7 Mt EDR of rutile, which, at 39% of world EDR, is the world’s largest.EDR of zircon is 33.9 Mt, with Western Australia and Queensland holding close to 65%. In world terms, Australia’s EDR is 43% of the total and is the largest holding by any country.

Although Australia has substantial EDR of mineral sands, Geoscience Australia estimates that 17% of ilmenite, 26% of rutile and 24% of zircon EDR is unavailable for mining. They are in areas quarantined from mining that are largely incorporated into national parks. Deposits in this category include Moreton Island, Bribie Island and Fraser Island, Cooloola sand mass, Byfield sand mass and Shoalwater Bay area (Queensland) and Yuraygir, Bundjalung, Hat Head and Myall Lakes National Parks (New South Wales).

In 2006 Australia produced 2.4 Mt of ilmenite, 232,000 tonnes of rutile, 133,000 tonnes of leucoxene and 492,000 tonnes of zircon. The bulk of Australia’s rutile and zircon production is exported compared with about 38% for ilmenite. The remaining ilmenite is upgraded to synthetic rutile. Australia was the world’s largest producer of ilmenite, rutile and zircon (with 25%, 46% and 53% of world output respectively) in 2006.


Australia's EDR of nickel decreased marginally (0.2 Mt) to 23.7 Mt in 2006. Western Australia has the largest nickel resources, with over 90% of total Australian EDR. Australia holds the largest share of the world’s EDR, with 37%.

Australian mine production of nickel in 2006 decreased by 2% to 185,000 tonnes, all from Western Australia. The value of all nickel products exported was $5.5b. Australia was the world’s third largest producer, accounting for 12% of estimated world nickel output.


Australia is the world’s largest producer of tantalum in the form of tantalum concentrates. Australia also has the world’s largest stock of tantalum resources, principally in its deposits at Greenbushes and Wodgina in Western Australia.

Australia has the world’s largest EDR of tantalum at 52,000 tonnes. This is approximately 95% of world EDR.Uranium

Australia has 714,000 tonnes of uranium in Reasonably Assured Resources recoverable at costs of less than US$80/kilogram of uranium - this is the world’s largest resource and represents 27% of world resources in this category (OECD Nuclear Energy Agency & International Atomic Energy Agency, 2006). Almost all of Australia’s total resources are in six deposits:
  • Olympic Dam (South Australia) which is the world’s largest uranium deposit
  • Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra in the Alligator River region (Northern Territory)
  • Kintyre and Yeelirrie (Western Australia).

Three uranium mines operated in 2006 - Ranger open cut, Olympic Dam underground mine, and the Beverley (South Australia) in situ leach operations. In 2006, Ranger produced 4,736 tonnes of uranium oxide, Olympic Dam 3,382 tonnes and Beverley 825 tonnes for a total of 8,943 tonnes, 20% lower than for 2005. Australia, with approximately 19% of world uranium production in 2006, is the world’s second largest producer after Canada (25%).

Exports of uranium oxide in 2006 were 8,660 tonnes, valued at $529m. 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 purposes. These conditions are given effect through bilateral safeguards agreements between Australia and importing states. In the case of non-nuclear-weapon-states, 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 nuclear-weapon states, 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, the European Union (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium and Finland), the Republic of (South) Korea and Canada. Zinc, lead, silver

Zinc is the 23rd most abundant element in the earth's crust. 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 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 used comes from recycling, rather than mining. The largest use is in batteries for vehicles and communications.

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.

Australian EDR of zinc at 40.6 Mt is the world's largest holding, with Queensland holding 63%. The Northern Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia also have zinc EDR.

Australia’s EDR of 23.5 Mt of lead is 31% of world EDR. Queensland has 64% of total Australian EDR. Other holdings are in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia.

EDR for silver in 2005 was 46 Kt, with Queensland having the largest share at 68%. Other holdings occur in South Australia (13%), the Northern Territory (11%), New South Wales (4%), and Western Australia (2%).

Australia has the world’s largest EDR of zinc (18%) and lead (32%), and the second largest EDR of silver (16%).

Mine production of zinc, lead and silver in 2006 was 1.36 Mt, 0.67 Mt and 1.73 Mt respectively. Production was lower for each commodity compared with 2005, with zinc down 5,000 tonnes, lead by 99,000 tonnes and silver by 680 tonnes. In production, Australia ranks second for lead and zinc after China and fourth for silver after Peru, Mexico and China. Cannington (Queensland) is the world's largest and lowest cost silver and lead operation and produced almost 266,000 tonnes of lead and 1,200 tonnes of silver in 2005-06. Century (Queensland) had the second largest zinc output at 599,000 tonnes.

Oil and gas

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

18.27 Locations of oil and gas production and pipelines - 2007
Diagram: 18.27 Locations of oil and gas production and pipelines—2007

Crude oil and condensate

In 2006-07 production of total crude oil and condensate from the North West Shelf (off Western Australia) and the Gippsland Basin (Victoria) accounted for 40% and 15% respectively of total Australian crude oil and condensate production. The North West Shelf was the major producer of condensate during 2006-07 with 77% 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. Australia's exports of LNG in 2006-07 was 15.20 Mt, an increase of 22% over the previous year. This increase was mainly due to the commencement of operations at the 3.5 Mt capacity Darwin (Northern Territory) plant in early 2006. Export earnings from LNG in 2006-07 were $5.2b, an increase of $0.8b on 2005-06.

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 2006-07 the major producers were the Gippsland Basin and the North West Shelf accounting for 42% and 45% of total production respectively.

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