1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2002   
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Contents >> Mining >> Major commodities

The information in this section has been largely drawn from the publication Australia's Identified Mineral Resources, 2000 published by the Australian Geological Survey Organisation (AGSO).

In 1999, Australia's economic demonstrated resources (EDR) of bauxite, diamonds, gold, iron ore, manganese ore, magnesite, mineral sands (ilmenite, rutile and zircon), nickel, phosphate rock and tantalum rose, while those of copper, coal (black and brown), lead, lithium, silver, uranium and zinc fell. The reductions in EDR were due mainly to ongoing high levels of production; commodity prices were a subsidiary factor. EDR of all other commodities remained effectively unchanged.

Bauxite and alumina

Australia is the world's largest producer and exporter of bauxite and alumina and the third largest producer and exporter of aluminium.

When exports of bauxite, alumina and aluminium (ingot metal) are taken into account, aluminium is Australia's third largest merchandise export behind coal and gold. The Australian aluminium industry consists on five bauxite mines, six alumina refineries, six primary aluminium smelthers, twelve extrustion mills and four rolled product mills.

In 1998-99 Australia produced 46.4 million tonnes (Mt) of bauxite, 14.2 Mt of alumina and 1.7 Mt of primary aluminium.

In 1999-2000 some of the major commodity exports were aluminium with 1.6 Mt, valued at $3.9b and representing 4% of total merchandise exports, and alumina with 11 Mt, valued at $3.4b or 3% of total merchandise exports. Japan was the major market for aluminium, taking 35% of exports.

Bauxite mining employed 1,564 people nationally at the end of June 1999.


In 1999, Australia produced 294 Mt of raw black coal (compared with 285 Mt in 1998), which yielded 231 Mt of saleable coal (225 Mt in 1998). Exports of black coal totalled 92 Mt of metallurgical coal and 79 Mt of steaming coal. Over 70% of Australia's raw coal production came from open-cut mines. In 1999, Australia accounted for 6% of the world's recoverable EDR of black coal and produced about 6% of the world's saleable black coal output.

Australia has substantial resources of high quality black coal. Most of these resources are located in New South Wales and Queensland; however, small but locally important coal resources occur in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Domestically, most coal produced is used to generate electricity. Other uses include coke-making for the iron and steel industry, and as a source of heat in the manufacture of cement.

The coal industry was the single largest employer in the mining sector at the end of June 1999, with 19,704 employees, or 42% of the total. This represented a drop of 2,818 (13%) over the level at end June 1998. Black coal was Australia's biggest export earning commodity in 1999-2000, accounting for $8.3b or 9% of the total value of merchandise exports. The main market for Australian coal was Japan, which purchased 83 Mt of Australian coal at a cost of $3.8b (46% of total sales).

Brown coal occurs mainly in Victoria, with other known resources in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Victoria is the only State that mines brown coal, where extensive resources are used mainly for electricity generation. Another important use is for the production of briquettes used for industrial and domestic heating in Australia and overseas.

In 1999, brown coal production was about 66.6 Mt, up by about 3% from 1998. The La Trobe Valley produced 98.5% of Australia's brown coal. Australia has about 20% of the world's recoverable brown coal EDR, and ranks second behind Germany (22%). It produced 8% of the world's brown coal in 1999 and ranked third after Germany (24%) and USA (10%).


In a global context, Australia is an important producer of copper with major mining and smelting operations at Olympic Dam and Mt Isa.

Australia has the world's third largest EDR of copper (6%), and ranks fourth in the world as a copper producer. In 1999 Australia's mine production was 735,000 tonnes (t) of contained copper, 21.7% higher than in 1998. This rise is attributable mainly to increased production from the Olympic Dam mine.

A major expansion of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium/gold/silver operation was completed in the first quarter of 1999 and at a cost of $1.94b. The expansion increased copper production.

Exports of copper ores and concentrates totalled $776m in 1999-2000, while exports of copper metal and copper articles totalled $1,211m. Copper mining employed 2,257 persons at the end of June 1999, representing 9.8% of total employees in the metal ore mining sector.


Australia's diamond production is the largest in the world for both gem/near gem and natural industrial diamond categories. Production is mostly from the Argyle open-pit, with a lesser contribution from the nearby Argyle alluvials operation.

Production of diamonds (gem/near gem, industrial) in 1999 was 30.8 million carats (Mc), a fall of 10 Mc from the 1998 level. Most of the decrease resulted from an increased waste-to-ore ratio associated with expansion of the open-pit operation at Argyle.

Exports of diamonds (sorted and unsorted) in 1999-2000 totalled $795m. This represents a 28% increase over the 1998-99 value. The two main destinations were Belgium-Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.


Much attention in the Australian gold mining industry during 1999 was focused on the low US dollar price for gold. An improvement in that price late in the year provided the industry with a degree of optimism.

Australia's gold resources occur in and are mined in all States and the Northern Territory. Based on figures published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and modified to incorporate the Australian resources reported here, Australia has now the fourth largest EDR after South Africa, USA and Uzbekistan. The USGS reports total world gold production in 1999 at an estimated 2,330 t. Production rankings remained unchanged, South Africa being the largest producer with 19.3% of world output - about the same as in 1998. It was followed by the USA, with its share was unchanged at 14.6% and Australia with an unchanged 13%.

Preliminary production data from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) indicate that Australia's gold production in 1999 fell by just under 4% to 301 t. Western Australia remained the dominant producer with an output of 213 t (9% lower than in 1998), which was almost 71% of total Australian output. Queensland remained the second largest producer with just under 33 t, which was a little more than in 1998. Other production (in rounded amounts) was: Northern Territory 22 t, New South Wales 21 t, Tasmania 5.5 t, Victoria 4.5 t and South Australia 2 t.

In 1999-2000 gold was Australia's second biggest export earning commodity after black coal, accounting for 5% of total merchandise exports at a value of $5.0b. The main markets were Singapore ($2.1b) and United Kingdom ($0.8b).

The gold mining industry employed 7,135 people at the end of June 1999, making it the second largest employer in the mining sector behind the coal industry.

Iron ore

Iron ore is the raw material for the production of iron that is mostly further processed to produce steel. Although the production of iron and steel accounts for most of the iron ore consumed in Australia and the rest of the world, small tonnages are used in a variety of applications - including pigment manufacture, coal washeries and cement manufacture.

Resources of iron ore occur in all Australian States and the Northern Territory. Over 90% of Australia's iron ore resources occur in Western Australia, mostly in the Hamersley Basin in the Pilbara region. Small but locally significant resources occur in South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales. Australia's large iron ore resources are the basis of a major export industry, which is based mainly in the Pilbara. Exploration expenditure for iron ore in 1998-99 totalled $41.5m, up from $30m in 1997-98.

Australian iron ore production in 1999 was 155.0 Mt (155.7 Mt in 1998). Of the total production, 148.8 Mt (96%) was from Western Australia. Australia has 11% of world EDR of iron ore and is ranked fourth after China (18%), Ukraine (16%) and Russia (15%). In terms of contained ore, Australia has 13% of the world's EDR and is ranked third behind the Ukraine (17%) and Russia (15%). Australia produces some 15% of the world's iron ore output and is ranked third behind China (21%) and Brazil (19%).

Iron ore accounted for $3.8b or 4% of total merchandise exports in 1999-2000. Japan was Australia's largest market, taking 45% of exports in dollar terms. Iron ore mining employed 4,793 people at the end of June 1999.

Manganese ore

Manganese ore occurs in all States and the Northern Territory. Most resources are located on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory. Small but locally significant resources occur at Woodie Woodie and Ant Hill in Western Australia. Australia's manganese resources are the basis of an important export industry as well as a domestic ferromanganese, silicomanganese and manganese dioxide industry.

In 1999, Australia produced 1.9 Mt of manganese ore, with a manganese content of 0.9 Mt. Exports totalled 1.4 Mt, valued at $195m. Australia has 7% of world's EDR of manganese ore and is ranked fourth behind South Africa (46%), Ukraine (24%) and China (11%). In terms of contained manganese, Australia has 9% of the world's EDR and is third behind South Africa (52%) and Ukraine (19%). Australia is the fifth largest producer at 9% behind China (30%), South Africa (15%), Gabon (11%) and Ukraine (10%).

EDR rose by over 22% to 134.3 Mt in 1999 due to new data about available resources becoming available for Groote Eylandt and the recommencement of the Woodie Woodie project in Western Australia.

Mineral sands

The principal components of mineral sands are zircon and the titanium minerals rutile and ilmenite. Rutile and ilmenite are minerals used mainly in the production of titanium dioxide pigment; a small portion, less than 4% of total titanium mineral production, typically rutile, is used in making titanium sponge metal. Zircon is consumed as an opacifier for glazes on ceramic tiles, in refractories and the foundry industry.

In 1999, Australia produced 2.0 Mt of ilmenite, 190,000 t of rutile and 375,000 t of zircon. The bulk of Australia's rutile and zircon production is exported, compared to about 55% of ilmenite production. Remaining ilmenite is upgraded to synthetic rutile, which contains 92-93% titanium dioxide (TiO2).

EDR of ilmenite increased substantially during 1999, up from 164.3 Mt in 1998 to 180.9 Mt, an increase of just over 10%. Most of the increase (86%) occurred in Western Australia, which has the largest EDR, and resulted from infill drilling along the northern section of the Swan Coastal Plain.

Australia has the world's largest EDR of ilmenite, rutile and zircon with 29%, 42% and 39% respectively. In 1999, world production of ilmenite decreased by 6% to 6.3 Mt, of rutile by 12% to 381,000 t, and of zircon by 1% to 790,000 t. Australia produced about 31%, 50% and 47% each of world production of ilmenite, rutile and zircon respectively, and is the world's leading producer of all three minerals as well as the largest exporter.

Expenditure on exploration for mineral sands in 1999 was estimated at $18.2m, an increase of about 5% over the previous year. It is likely that most of the expenditure was in the Murray Basin, which has an extensive coverage of exploration leases.

The mineral sand mining industry employed 1,913 persons at the end of June 1999.


Total identified resources of nickel rose by 7.7 Mt (29%) in 1999. EDR increased by over 17%, from 9.0 Mt to a record 10.6 Mt, which constitutes about 30% of total identified resources. In Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales increases in EDR resulted mainly from company reassessments at either existing mines or new deposits nearing production. Western Australia remains the largest holder of nickel resources with 88% of total EDR.

In 1999, about 700 kilotonnes (kt) of nickel concentrates (approximately 126 kt of contained nickel) were produced from Western Australia.

According to AGSO and USGS data, world EDR of nickel increased by 4.8% from 45.3 Mt in 1998 to 47.5 Mt in 1999. Australia's share of world EDR rose to 22.3% from 19.8% in 1998, making it the largest holder of EDR, followed by Russia (14%), Canada (13%), and Cuba (12%).

Australia produced about 11% of estimated world nickel output of 1.14 Mt. Russia was again the largest producer with 250 kt (22.7%), followed by Canada with 203 kt (19%) and Australia. Australian exports of nickel in 1999-2000 totalled $1.4b.


Increased use of portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, computers and video cameras has maintained strong growth in demand for tantalum capacitors in recent years. Australia, through the operations of Sons of Gwalia Limited, is the world's largest producer of tantalum in the form of tantalum concentrates.

Despite increased production of tantalum pentoxide (Ta2O5), EDR increased by 37% in 1999 to just over 24 kt tantalum (Ta). This was largely due to reassessment of resources in the Greenbushes and Wodgina deposits. Sons of Gwalia Limited reported that the resource base at Greenbushes increased from 38.7 to 75.2 million pounds (Mlbs) Ta2O5, while at Wodgina it increased almost six fold to 31 Mlbs Ta2O5.

Small levels of resources in the EDR category occur elsewhere in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Minor resources in this category occur in New South Wales.

The increase in resources at Greenbushes and Mt Cassiterite East consolidated Australia's position as the world's largest holder of tantalum resources. Based on world estimates published by the USGS and modified by AGSO to take account of recent discoveries, Australia has over 80% of the world's EDR of tantalum. Canada has the second largest resource base, followed by the Congo.

Exports of tantalum and niobium ores and concentrates in 1999-2000 were 3,923 t, an increase of 1,376 t over 1998-99. The total value of tantalum exports in 1999-2000 was $81m, an increase of 34% over 1998-99.


Australia has the world's largest resources of uranium in the low cost Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) category, with 26% of world resources in this category.

During 1999, Australia's low cost RAR (equates to EDR) decreased by 36,000 t uranium (U) to 571,000 t U. This represents a decrease of 6% and was due to the following factors: re-calculation of the resources of the Olympic Dam deposit by WMC Ltd, resulting in a decrease in the total measured and indicated mineral resources, together with a small decrease in total proved and probable reserves and mine production.

Approximately 95% of Australia's total uranium resources in the low cost RAR category are within the following six deposits: Olympic Dam, South Australia, which is the world's largest uranium deposit; Ranger, Jabiluka, Koongarra in the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory; and Kintyre and Yeelirrie, Western Australia. The Olympic Dam copper-uranium-gold-silver deposit is the world's largest deposit of low-cost uranium. Uranium oxide was produced at the Ranger and Olympic Dam operations. Australia's total production in 1999 reached a record high of 7,055 tonnes of uranium oxide (t U3O8), 22% higher than for 1998, with Ranger producing 3,857 t and Olympic Dam 3,198 t U3O8.

Total expenditure on uranium exploration in Australia for 1999 was $9.25m, a reduction of over 50% compared to 1998. This significant decline was due to a number of factors including: several companies ceasing to explore for uranium in Australia; expenditure on the Beverley in situ leach operation no longer attributable to exploration, following commitment in 1999 to develop this project; and exploration ceasing at the Kintyre project (WA).

Exports of uranium ores and concentrates in 1999-2000 totalled 8,023 t and earned $367m. All exports of Australian uranium are subject to stringent safeguards which provide assurance that none of the material is diverted from peaceful uses.

Zinc, lead, silver

Australia has the world's largest EDR of lead (23%), second largest of zinc (17%) after China, and fourth largest of silver (11%) after Mexico, Canada and the United States. As a producer, Australia ranks first in the world for lead, second for zinc (after Canada) and fourth for silver after Mexico, USA and Peru.

Australia's total identified resources of zinc (81.5 Mt), lead (51 Mt) and silver (85.4 kt) decreased by 2%, 4% and 6% respectively in 1999. In the same period, EDR of zinc (32 Mt), lead (14.6 Mt) and silver (31.2 kt) decreased by 6%, 15% and 23% respectively as a result of production and reassessment of resources at major mines.

Mine production in 1999 for zinc, lead and silver was 1.06 Mt, 0.68 Mt and 1.7 kt, respectively. Production was mainly from mines at Cannington, Century, George Fisher, Hilton and Mount Isa in Queensland; McArthur River in the Northern Territory; Broken Hill and Elura in New South Wales; Hellyer and Rosebery in Tasmania; and Scuddles, Gossan Hill and the Lennard Shelf deposits in Western Australia. Australia's gold mines continue to be significant contributors to silver production.

The silver-lead-zinc ore mining industry had employment of 3,029 people at the end of June 1999.

Crude oil and condensate

Australian production of crude oil and condensate in 1999-2000 was 37,465 ML, an increase of 34% over 1998-99. Production of total crude oil and condensate from the Gippsland Basin accounted for 31% (or 11,639 ML) of total Australian crude oil and condensate production, the North West Shelf also accounted for 31% (or 11,533 ML). The North West Shelf was the major producer of condensate during 1999-2000 with 77% (6,038 ML) of total Australian production sourced in that region.

In 1999-2000 exports of crude petroleum oils totalled 19,173 ML, valued at $4.9b; they were substantially up on 1998-99 (12,383 ML, $1.6b). The main markets were Republic of Korea, USA and Singapore.

Liquefied petroleum gas

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.

Production of naturally occurring LPG in Australia in 1999-2000 was 4,368 ML, an increase of 12% over 1998-99. The major contributors were the Gippsland Basin (1,889 ML or 43% of total production) and the North West Shelf (1,564 ML or 36% of total production).

In 1999-2000 Australian exports of liquefied propane and butane totalled 1.6 Mt, an increase of 14% over 1998-99. Export earnings from liquefied propane and butane in 1999-2000 were $648m, up $351m (118%) on the previous year.

Liquefied natural gas

During 1999-2000, some 31,180 million cubic metres (Mm3) of LNG were produced for domestic consumption and export, an increase of 2% over 1998-99 production. Production was dominated by the North West Shelf, which accounted for 16,357 Mm3 of natural gas, or 52% of the total.

Export earnings from LNG increased by 37% to $1.9b in 1999-2000.

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