1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/01/2006   
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Contents >> Chapter 16 - 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 2005).

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



Maps 16.23, 16.24 and 16.25 show selected mines and deposits - map 16.23 covers gold and diamonds; map 16.24 covers bauxite, coal, iron ore, manganese ore and uranium; map 16.25 covers base metals and mineral sands.


Source: Geoscience Australia.


Source: Geoscience Australia.


Source: Geoscience Australia.

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 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 2004 Australia was the largest producer of bauxite and alumina. The Australian aluminium industry directly employs over 16,000 people.

Production in 2004 totalled 56.6 Mt of bauxite, 16.5 Mt of alumina and 1.9 Mt of aluminium (ingot metal). Compared with 2003 these represented an increase of 1.8% for bauxite with no change for alumina and aluminium.

In 2004 strong markets for aluminium in North America, with growth in demand of around 10%, together with increased demand from China, resulted in a supply shortage in the primary aluminium market for the first time since 2000. In 2004 the annual average price of aluminium increased to 78 US cents per pound, an increase of 20% against the 2003 average. Expansion of the Weipa bauxite mine in Queensland was completed, resulting in an increase in production capacity to 16.5 Mt per year. This supports the new alumina refinery at Gladstone, the first stage of which was completed in late-2004. The Queensland government's Aurukun bauxite project moved ahead during 2004 following investigations indicating sufficient resources at the Aurukun site (some 90 kilometres south of Weipa) to warrant further exploration to fully delineate the deposit and investigate establishment of a mine and alumina refinery. Plans are underway for the Gove alumina refinery in the Northern Territory to undergo a $US1.3b expansion. Lifting the refinery's capacity from 2.1 Mt to around 3.8 Mt per year, the project will significantly improve operating efficiency and enhance environmental performance. The strong international demand for mineral resources has resulted in renewed interest in bauxite deposits in northern Western Australia.


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 2004, 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 40.4 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 37.5 Gt, which gives Australia the largest holding in the world and accounts for 24% of world EDR.

Australia's coal production and exports have risen strongly over the past two decades. Production of black coal increased in 2004. Output of saleable black coal at 298.0 Mt was 6.2% higher than in 2003 and was 7% of world output, making Australia the world’s fourth largest producer. Brown coal production reached 68 Mt in 2003, 8% of total world output. Australia was the world’s fifth largest producer of brown coal.

Black coal exports in 2004 of 116.8 Mt of coking coal (valued at $7.8b) and 106.9 Mt of steaming coal (valued at $5.5b), made black coal Australia’s leading mineral export.


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 42.1 Mt giving it the world’s second largest holding of copper EDR with 9% of the total.

Mine production of copper in 2004 was 860 kilotonne (kt) of contained copper, 4% higher than in 2003 (829 kt). Queensland dominates Australian production with 399 kt (largely from Mt Isa) followed by South Australia with 225 kt (all from Olympic Dam). The remaining production occurred in New South Wales (166 kt), Western Australia (38 kt) and Tasmania (32 kt). As a producer, Australia ranks fourth, with 6% of world output, after Chile (35%), the United States of America (8%) and Peru (7%), with Indonesia also at 6%.

Australia's exports of copper concentrates and refined copper were valued at $2.57b in 2004, 1.7% of the value of total merchandise exports.


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 diamonds are 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 20.7 million carats (Mc) of diamond in 2004, making it the world's fourth largest producer of diamond by weight after Botswana, Russia and Congo (Kinshasa). It is the third largest producer of industrial-grade diamond and the fourth largest producer of gem/near gem diamond after Botswana, Russia and Canada.

Australia's EDR of gem/near gem diamonds is 53.4 Mc and industrial diamonds 55.6 Mc. Australia's EDR of industrial diamond is ranked fourth in the world, with 10% of world EDR.

The majority of Australian production was from the Argyle mine in the Kimberley region of Western Australia which produced 20.62 Mc of mostly industrial and near gem diamonds in 2004. Argyle production was down 33% on 2003 as a consequence of difficult near-base-of-pit mining conditions, which resulted in mining of lower grade ore. The average grade mined for the year was 2.15 carats (ct) per tonne well down on the 2003 average of 3.16 ct per tonne.


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 5,589 tonnes, the second largest in the world after South Africa.

Australian gold production reported by ABARE for 2004 was 259 tonnes. This level of production makes Australia the third largest producer in the world after South Africa and the United States of America, with about 14% and 11% of world output respectively. The Super Pit at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia was the largest producer with an output of nearly 0.9 million ounces.

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 of 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 14.6 Gt which is about 9% of world EDR. Western Australia has almost all of Australia's EDR with about 92% occurring in the Pilbara district. Australia has the fifth largest iron ore holding in the world.

According to ABARE Australia's production of iron ore in 2004 was 231.0 Mt, which was 18% of world output, making Australia the world’s third largest producer.

Iron ore was a major contributor to Australia’s export income in 2004 with 210.3 Mt valued at $6.1b exported.

Manganese ore

Over 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 2004. Production reached 2.73 Mt, 14% of world output, making Australia the third largest producer in the world. Australian production is from two mines - Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory and Woodie Woodie in Western Australia. A third mine is under construction at Bootu Creek in the Northern Territory. Australia’s EDR of manganese ore, at 133 Mt, is 11% of world EDR and Australia has the fourth largest EDR in the world.

In 2004 Australian exports of manganese ore totalled 2.82 Mt valued at $402m.

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 2004 was from Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

Australia’s EDR of ilmenite is 217.2 Mt of which 62% is in Western Australia, 24% in Queensland and the rest in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Australia accounts for 20% (the second largest holding behind China at 35%) of the world’s EDR of ilmenite. Queensland and Western Australia together hold over 57% of Australia’s 20.2 Mt EDR of rutile, which, at 39% of world EDR, is the world’s largest.

EDR of zircon is 30.0 Mt, with Western Australia and Queensland holding just over 76%. In world terms, Australia’s EDR is 41% of the total and is the largest holding by any country.

Although Australia has substantial EDR of mineral sands, Geoscience Australia estimates that some 17% of ilmenite, 28% of rutile and 27% 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, all in Queensland, and Yuraygir, Bundjalung, Hat Head and Myall Lakes National Parks in New South Wales.

In 2004 Australia produced 1.93 Mt of ilmenite, 162,000 tonnes of rutile, 44,000 tonnes of leucoxene and 441,000 tonnes of zircon. The bulk of Australia’s rutile and zircon production is exported compared with about 39% for ilmenite. The remaining ilmenite is upgraded to synthetic rutile. Australia was the world’s largest producer of rutile (41%) and the second largest producer of ilmenite and zircon (with 22% and 41% of world output respectively) in 2004.


Australia's total resources of nickel are 26.7 Mt of which EDR is 22.6 Mt. Western Australia has the largest nickel resources, with 90% of total Australian EDR. Australia holds the largest share of the world’s EDR, with 36.6%.

Australian mine production of nickel in 2004 decreased by 2.6% to 187,000 tonnes, all from Western Australia. Production of intermediate nickel products (matte and speiss) totalled 106,000 tonnes in 2004 and refined nickel was 122,000 tonnes. The value of all nickel products exported was $3.3b. Australia was the world’s second largest producer, accounting for 13.4% 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 53,000 tonnes, all of which is accessible for mining. This is approximately 95% of world EDR.

Although Australian production of 640 tonnes is incomplete for the calendar year 2004, it dominated world production with 57% of world output.


Australia has 701,000 tonnes of uranium in Reasonably Assured Resources recoverable at costs of less than US$40 kilograms of uranium - this is the world’s largest resource and represents 40% of world resources in this category (OECD Nuclear Energy Agency & International Atomic Energy Agency, 2004). Almost all of Australia’s total resources are in six deposits:
  • Olympic Dam in South Australia, which is the world’s largest uranium deposit
  • Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra in the Alligator River region in the Northern Territory
  • Kintyre and Yeelirrie in Western Australia.

Three uranium mines operated in 2004 - Ranger open cut, Olympic Dam underground mine, and the Beverley (South Australia) in situ leach operations. In 2004 Ranger produced 5,138 tonnes of uranium oxide, Olympic Dam 4,370 tonnes and Beverley 1,084 tonnes for a total of 10,592 tonnes, 19% higher than for 2003. Australia, with approximately 22% of world uranium production in 2004, is the world’s second largest producer after Canada (29%).

Exports of uranium oxide in 2004 were 9,648 tonnes, valued at $411m. All of Australia's uranium production is exported. Exports are controlled by Australian Government bilateral safeguards agreements, which are designed to ensure that Australia's uranium is used only for electricity generation and is not diverted to any military purposes. Importing countries must be signatories to the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards arrangements and have entered into an agreement with the Australian Government to adhere to safeguard obligations for exporting uranium. In addition, the Australian Government recently announced the requirement for countries purchasing Australian uranium to have ratified the Additional Protocol under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is to strengthen current safeguards arrangements covering exports of uranium.

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 5000 BC. In deposits mined today, lead (in the form of galena) is usually associated with zinc, silver and sometimes 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 since before Roman times. Its extensive use in coins throughout history has declined over the past 40 years. Silver is mined and produced mainly as a co-product of copper, lead, zinc, and to a lesser extent, gold. Today, photographic paper and film, followed by the electronics and jewellery/tableware industries are the most important users of silver.

Australian EDR of zinc is 41Mt, with Queensland holding 65%. The Northern Territory, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania also have zinc EDR.

Australia’s EDR of 23 Mt of lead is 33% of world EDR. Queensland has over 60% of total EDR, mainly at Cannington and Mt Isa. Other holdings are in the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.

EDR for silver in 2004 was 41.4 Kt, with Queensland having the largest share at 73%, mainly in the Mt Isa, Cannington, Century and Hilton deposits. Other holdings occur in the Northern Territory (11%), South Australia (6%), New South Wales (6%), and Western Australia (3%) with the remainder in Tasmania and Victoria.

Australia has the world’s largest EDR of zinc (18% of the world) and lead (33%), and the second largest EDR of silver (15%).

Mine production of zinc, lead and silver in 2004 was 1.34 Mt, 700,000 tonnes and 2,237 tonnes respectively. This is a slight decrease for zinc (down 1,000 tonnes), no change for lead and an increase for silver (up 367 tonnes) compared with 2003. In production, Australia ranks first for lead, third for zinc after China and Peru and fourth for silver after Mexico, Peru and China. Cannington is the world's largest and lowest cost silver and lead operation and produced almost 272,000 tonnes of lead and 41.7 million ounces of silver in 2004. Century had the largest zinc output at 517,000 tonnes.


Map 16.26 shows significant locations of oil and gas production and includes oil and gas production locations, oil and gas pipelines and oil refineries.


Source: Geoscience Australia.

Crude oil and condensate

In 2004-05 production of total crude oil and condensate from the North West Shelf and the Gippsland Basin accounted for 37% and 24% respectively of total Australian crude oil and condensate production. The North West Shelf was the major producer of condensate during 2004-05 with 77% of total Australian production sourced from that region.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

All LNG production comes from the North West Shelf Venture and all is exported. LNG production in 2004-05 was 10.69 Mt. Export earnings from LNG in 2004-05 were $3.2b, an increase of $1b on 2003-04.

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 2004-05 the major producers were the Gippsland Basin and the North West Shelf accounting for 43% and 42% of total production respectively.

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