3. Resources

Overview

Australia is a world leader in mining and produces 19 minerals in significant amounts from nearly 400 operating mines. Minerals are produced in all states, the Northern Territory and on Christmas Island. There is no mining in the Australian Capital Territory apart from quarries used to mine aggregate and other construction materials.

Minerals are an important part of the Australian economy, accounting for about 7% of gross domestic product. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the mining industry employs around 263 000 people directly.

Minerals are Australia's largest export. According to the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, the industry's exports (excluding oil and gas) were worth approximately $165 billion in 2011-12, accounting for around 52% of total exports (goods and services) and 62% of merchandise exports. Australian mining companies trade freely in the global marketplace, exporting goods on a commercial basis around the world with the major markets for Australian mineral exports being China, Japan, South Korea and India.

Australia is one of the top mineral producers in the world and has a large resource inventory of most of the world's key minerals commodities. Australia is the world's leading producer of bauxite, ilmenite, rutile, iron ore and zircon, the second largest producer of alumina, gold, lead, lithium, manganese ore and zinc, the third largest producer of uranium, the fourth largest producer of black coal, nickel and silver, and the fifth largest producer of aluminium, cobalt and copper.

Australia also has the largest identified resources of gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, rutile, uranium, zinc and zircon, and the second largest resources of bauxite, cobalt, copper, ilmenite, niobium, silver, tantalum and thorium. Australia's lithium and rare earth resources are ranked third, manganese ore and vanadium are ranked fourth and black coal is ranked fifth in the world.

The subsections on the following pages provide an overview of Australia's resources of bauxite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, nickel, rare earth elements and uranium; specifically their distribution, reserve and resource amounts, state/territory share, world ranking, resource trends and resource to production ratio. For industry developments and a more in-depth discussion of these commodities, and others, please refer to Geoscience Australia's annual publication of 'Australia's Identified Mineral Resources'1.

Resources and Reserves

Geoscience Australia and its predecessors have prepared annual assessments of Australia's mineral resources since 1975. The latest data are summarised in Table 3.1.

The national minerals inventory is based on published company reports of Ore Reserves and Mineral Resources. The national resource estimates provide a long-term view of what is likely to be mined. An industry view of what is likely to be mined in the short to medium term is provided by the national total for Ore Reserves, which is based on the Australasian Code for Reporting of Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves (referred to as the JORC Code). Mine production data are based on figures from the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics.

National Resource Classification System

The mineral resource classification system used for Australia's national inventory is based on two general criteria:

  • the geological certainty of the existence of the mineral resource
  • the economic feasibility of its extraction over the long term.

For a full description of the system see Appendix 1 'National Classification System for Identified Mineral Resources'.

The description of the National Classification System shows how mineral resources reported by companies under the JORC Code are used when compiling total resources for the nation. The classification category Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) is used for national totals of economic resources and provides a basis for meaningful comparisons of Australia's economic resources with those of other nations.

Table 3.1 Australia's resources of major minerals and world figures as at December 2012
Commodity Units Australia World
    JORC Reserves (a) (% of Accessible EDR) Demonstrated Resources Inferred Resources (c) Accessible EDR (d) Mine Production 2012 (e) Economic Resources 2012 (f) Mine production 2012 (g)
Economic (EDR) (b) Subeconomic
Para-marginal Sub-marginal
Antimony kt Sb 55 (51%) 107 9 0 203 107 3.9 1800 180
Bauxite Mt 2145 (34%) 6281 144 1429 1474 6281 76.3 28 000 263
Black coal                    
in situ Mt   77 589 1613 5341 89 194        
recoverable Mt 20 662 (38%) 61 082 1134 3984 64 184 54 200 501 (h) 665 000 (i) 6637 (j)(k)
Brown coal                    
in situ Mt   49 035 37 465 16 873 123 240        
recoverable Mt n.a. (l) 44 164 33 402 15 185 102 502 34 095 66.73 (m) 195 000 (i) 1041 (k)
Cobalt kt Co 519 (51%) 1021 294 37 1209 1021 5.88 (n) 7273 110.48
Copper Mt Cu 25.2 (28%) 91.1 1.4 0.4 43.9 91.1 0.91 690 16.6
Chromium kt Cr 0 0 0 0 3657 0 127.7 (o) >460 000 24 000 (p)
Diamond Mc 146.1 (55%) 268.0 0 0 42.7 268.0 8.6 600 (q) 150
Fluorine Mt F 0 0 0.5 0 0.4 0 0 117 (r) 3.34 (r)
Gold t Au 4119 (42%) 9909 372 122 4571 9879 251 54 300 2660
Iron                    
iron ore Mt 15 305 (34%) 44 650 566 1365 73 570 44 650 520 175 650 2959
iron (contained Fe) Mt Fe 7931 (38%) 20 638 224 473 33 827 20 638 n.a. 83 688 n.a.
Lead Mt Pb 15.4 (45%) 34.4 3.4 0.2 20.2 34.4 0.62 89 5.2
Lithium kt Li 854 (55%) 1538 0 0.1 139 1538 12.7 (s) 13 538 37 (r)
Magnesite Mt MgCO3 37.5 (11%) 330 22 35 836 330 0.588 (t) 8300 21.16 (r)
Manganese ore Mt 135.4 (72%) 186.8 23.1 167 324.1 186.8 7.208 1635 48
Mineral sands                    
Ilmenite Mt 43.2 (28%) 187.0 30.2 0.03 219.9 156.4 1.344 1233.57 11.30
Rutile Mt 7.1 (31%) 26.6 0.3 0.06 42.2 22.8 0.439 50.68 0.79
Zircon Mt 14.9 (36%) 47.4 1.1 0.07 68.3 41.0 0.605 88.62 1.41
Molybdenum kt Mo 79.5 (39%) 203 1220 0.5 572 203 0 (u) 11 203 252
Nickel Mt Ni 7.5 (42%) 17.7 4.2 0.2 17.8 17.7 0.244 72.6 2.14
Niobium kt Nb 115 (56%) 205 82 0 418 205 (v) 4300 0
Phosphate                    
phosphate rock (w) Mt 289 (33%) 869 312 0 2089 869 3.09 67 500 210
contained P2O5 Mt 51 (34%) 148 65 0 354 148 n.a. n.a. n.a.
PGE (Pt, Pd, Os, Ir, Ru, Rh) t metal 0 4.7 139.0 1.4 131.0 0.3 0.706 66 000 379
Potash Mt K2O 0 0 20.7 0 11.5 0 0 9500 34
Rare earths (REO & Y2O3) Mt 2.15 (67%) 3.19 0.42 31.14 22.33 3.19 0 115 0.106
Shale oil GL 0 0 213 2074 1272 (x) 0 0 763 139 (i) 1.165 (i)
Silver kt Ag 30.4 (36%) 85.2 3.5 0.5 36.0 85.2 1.76 556 23.8
Tantalum kt Ta 29 (48%) 60 18 0.2 21 60 (y) 156 0.77
Thorium kt Th 0 0 91 (z) 0 444 (z) 0 0 n.a. n.a.
Tin kt Sn 170 (61%) 277 65 31 262 277 5.8 (aa) 4947 228
Tungsten kt W 201 (51%) 391 11.1 5 102 391 0.29 (ab) 3488 73.3
Uranium kt U 373 (34%) 1174 34 0 590 1104 7.009 3472 (ac) 58.394 (ad)
Vanadium kt V 1305 (77%) 1684 14 640 1759 16 591 1684 0.07 (ae) 16 000 63
Zinc Mt Zn 32.1 (50%) 64.1 1.1 0.8 25.8 64.1 1.54 247 13.1
Abbreviations

t = tonne; L = litre; kt = kilotonnes (1000 t); Mt = million tonnes (1000 000 t); Mc = million carats (1000 000 c); GL = gigalitre (1000 000 000 L); n.a. = not available.

Notes

  1. Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) Proved and Probable Ore Reserves as stated in company annual reports and reports to Australian Securities Exchange.
  2. Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) includes Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) Reserves, Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources.
  3. Total Inferred Resources in economic, sub-economic and undifferentiated categories.
  4. Accessible Economic Demonstrated Resources (AEDR) is the portion of total EDR that is accessible for mining. AEDR does not include resources which are inaccessible for mining because of environmental restrictions, government policies or military lands.
  5. Source: Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE).
  6. Sources: Geoscience Australia for Australian figures, United States Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Commodities Summaries for other countries.
  7. World mine production for 2012, mostly United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates.
  8. Raw coal.
  9. Source: World Energy Council (WEC). Survey of Energy Resources 2010.
  10. Saleable coal.
  11. Source: World Coal Association, 2012.
  12. There are no JORC code ore reserve estimates available for brown coal.
  13. Source: Victoria's Minerals, Petroleum & Extractive Industries 2010–11 Statistical Review. Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
  14. Source: Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum.
  15. 186 635 t of chromite expressed as Cr2O3 (Source: Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum).
  16. World production of 24 Mt of 'marketable chromite ore' as reported by United States Geological Survey (USGS).
  17. Source: USGS Commodity Summaries 2012. Note—world resource figures are for industrial diamonds only. No data provided for resources of gem diamonds.
  18. Excludes USA.
  19. Calculated assuming a grade of 6% Li2O in spodumere concentrates.
  20. Production for 2012–13 (Source: Queensland Government. Department of Natural Resources and Mines).
  21. Some molybdenum was produced as a by-product of tungsten at the Wolfram Camp mine. Amount produced is not known but is believed to be minor.
  22. Not reported by mining companies.
  23. Phosphate rock is reported as economic at grades ranging from 8.7% to 30.2% P2O5.
  24. Total Inferred Resource excludes a 'total potential' shale oil resource of the Toolebuc Formation, Queensland of 245 000 GL that was estimated by Geoscience Australia's predecessor, the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and CSIRO in 1983.
  25. Department of Mines and Petroleum, Government of Western Australia reported a combined production in dollar values of tin, tantalum and lithium of $200 844 824.
  26. Thorium resources reduced by 10 per cent to account for mining and processing losses.
  27. For all states except WA where actual figures not available.
  28. Estimated from production figures for tungsten (WO3) concentrate.
  29. Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development/Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (2011). Compiled from the most recent data for resources recoverable at costs of less than US$130/kg U.
  30. Source: World Nuclear Association.
  31. For 2012 the Windimurra Vanadium project has produced 87 t of FeV, containing 70 t of vanadium.

Accessible Resources

Some mineral deposits are not currently accessible for mining because of government policies or various environmental and land-access restrictions such as location within National and State parks and conservation zones, military training areas or environmental protection areas, as well as areas over which mining approval has not been granted by traditional owners. Accessible Economic Demonstrated Resources (AEDR), as shown in Table 3.1, represent the resources within the EDR category that are accessible for mining.

World Ranking

The world ranking for each commodity is presented in two tables, one for resources and one for production. The data is chiefly gathered from the annual compilations of the United States Geological Survey and supplemented with more accurate figures for Australia. International uranium figures are gathered from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development/Nuclear Energy Agency and International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Nuclear Association.

Trends

The EDR of Australia's major mineral commodities have undergone significant and sometimes dramatic changes over the period 1975 to 2012. These changes can be attributed to one, or a combination, of the following factors:

  • Increases in resources resulting from discoveries of new deposits and delineation of extensions of known deposits.
  • Depletion of resources as a result of mine production.
  • Advances in mining and metallurgical technologies, e.g., carbon-based processing technologies for gold have enabled economic extraction from low-grade deposits that were previously were uneconomic.
  • Adoption of the JORC Code for resource classification and reporting by the Australian minerals industry. Many companies re-estimated their mineral resources to comply with the requirements of the JORC Code with subsequent impacts on the amount of ore reserves and mineral resources. The impacts of the JORC Code on EDR occurred at differing times for each of the major commodities.
  • Increases in prices of mineral commodities driven largely by the escalating demand from China over the past decade.

Resource to Production Ratio

The resource life for each commodity is calculated as a ratio of AEDR to current mine production, and then rounded to five years. This ratio provides an indicative estimate of the resource life. Resource life based on the ratio of reserves to production, rather than AEDR to production, is lower, reflecting a shorter term commercial outlook. The AEDR of most of Australia's major commodities show that current rates of mine production can be sustained for many decades. Excluding rare earth elements (for which an indicative resource life does not yet exist), of the commodities covered in this document, only gold has an indicative resource life of less than 50 years.

Table 3.2 World ranking of major mineral resources and production 2012.
  World Ranking for Resources % of World Resources World Ranking for Production % of World Production
Source: United States Geological Survey and Geoscience Australia; n.a.=not applicable; (a) USA production is not reported, thus Australia's percentage of world production is estimated to be less than the figure given; (b) Western Australian production is not reported, thus Australia's percentage of world production is estimated to be more than the figure given.
Antimony unknown 6 unknown 1
Bauxite 2 22 1 30
Black Coal 5 10 4 7
Brown Coal 5 10 6 4
Cobalt 2 13 5 5
Copper 2 13 5 5
Chromium minor unknown minor <1
Diamond (Ind.) unknown unknown 5 10
Fluorine n.a. 0 n.a. 0
Gold 1 18 2 9
Ilmenite 2 25 1 20
Iron Ore 1 25 1 26
Lead 1 40 2 12
Lithium 3 11 2 <35 (a)
Magnesite 4 4 minor <2 (a)
Manganese Ore 4 15 2 20
Molybdenum 7 2 n.a. 0
Nickel 1 25 4 13
Niobium 2 5 unknown unknown
Phosphate minor 1 minor 1
PGE minor <1 minor <1
Potash n.a. n.a. n.a. 0
Rare Earths 3 3 n.a. 0
Rutile 1 53 1 56
Shale Oil n.a. n.a. n.a. 0
Silver 2 16 4 7
Tantalum 2 38 unknown unknown
Thorium 2 n.a. n.a. 0
Tin 7 5 6 >2 (b)
Tungsten 3 12 minor <1
Uranium 1 34 3 12
Vanadium 4 11 minor <1
Zinc 1 27 2 12
Zircon 1 64 1 43

Notes

  1. Australia's Identified Mineral Resources: http://www.ga.gov.au/metadata-gateway/metadata/record/gcat_78987/