Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter overall and is the fourth largest producer of black coal. Coal Mining is the largest commodity exported and a vital national resource.
Coal has many uses, including the generation of electricity, the production of steel, and the manufacture of cement. Approximately 40% of the electricity generated worldwide is produced from burning coal and over 80% of Australia’s black coal is used by power stations.
The Coal Mining industry is made up mostly of large-scale industrial mining operations engaged in open-cut or underground mining of black or brown coal, metallurgical and thermal (steaming) and coking coal, and lignite. Lignite is the lowest grade of coal, often used as fuel for steam-electric power generation. Because it contains a relatively low level of energy density it is often burned in power stations constructed near mines, such as in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria.
Peat is also included in this industry. Peat is a dark material created when vegetable matter decomposition occurs. It is the first stage of transformation of plant matter into coal. For many years peat was a main source of fuel for heating and cooking, but now it is often used for agriculture and horticulture to increase soil's capacity to retain moisture and add nutrients.
Australian Coal Mining is an increasingly sophisticated, hi-tech activity. The significant improvements in mining technology, occupational health and safety, and environmental management help ensure that Australia is an efficient and reliable producer of high quality coal. Coal mining creates significant employment prospects in regional Australia through the building of infrastructure and employment in sectors that directly support coal-mining operations.
The environmental impact of coal mining has resulted in clean coal technologies becoming increasingly important. These are processes and methods designed to reduce emissions, reduce waste, and increase the amount of energy gained from extracted coal, enhancing both the efficiency and the environmental acceptability of coal extraction. Clean coal technologies and emissions e.g. methane and carbon capture and storage pilot projects are currently underway in Victoria.
Based on the 2006 Census there were more than 26,800 people employed in the Coal Mining industry in Australia, with almost 23,700 of those working full-time and around 1,400 part-time.
The Oil and Gas Extraction industry produces crude oil, natural gas or natural gas condensate through the extraction of oil and gas deposits. At least two-thirds of the world’s energy needs are currently met by fossil fuels. Natural gas is used to generate electricity, and petroleum products derived from oil, petrol, diesel and kerosene, essential fuels for transport on land, sea and in the air. Oil and gas are also used for domestic heating and are important process fuels in industry.
Oil and gas reserves can be found in every state of Australia except the ACT with large reserves off the coast of Western Australia and inland in the eastern part of the country especially in SA and Victoria.
Potential oil and gas traps are located through the analysis of seismic survey data. Only in the last 40 years has it been possible to efficiently extract petroleum from beneath the seas. The search is difficult, extremely expensive, and often no reserves are found, but with almost 90% of Australia’s petroleum wealth found offshore, it is critical to the industry’s success.
Offshore drilling takes place on platforms that are towed out to sea by barges. These platforms house workers and machinery needed to drill and produce oil and natural gas. Platforms may consist of an artificial island, or they may be attached to the ocean floor, or be floating. Drill bits are then navigated by sophisticated computer technology, sometimes from great distances, to pierce the surface of the ocean floor. Multiple wellheads allow platforms to access reservoirs at different depths and in remote positions up to 8 kilometres away.
While the cost of onshore exploration is considerably lower than off-shore exploration, the concentration of onshore exploration wells in Australia is quite low by world standards. Many of the inland oil and gas resources are located in quite remote locations, with limited surrounding infrastructure.
Based on the 2006 Census there were more than 8,900 people working in the Oil and Gas Extraction industry, with over 7,300 of those working full-time and approximately 630 in part-time. The Mining division, of which Oil and Gas Extraction is a part, contributed over $44 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the 2006-2007 financial year.
The Metal Ore Mining sector is made up of those establishments that mine rocks containing materials that are considered valuable, able to be profitably mined and able to be extracted by mineral processing. The minerals include iron ore, bauxite, copper ore, mineral sands, and a range of others.
Fluctuations in commodity prices and the cost of production determine what rock is defined as ore or waste and the cost of extraction is weighted against the contained metal value of the rock and a 'cut-off grade' used to define what is ore and what is waste.
Ore is extracted from open pit mines by removing soil and rock from the surface of the pit. Holes are drilled into the surface, explosives are placed inside and blasting shatters the mine site into steps or benches. Large mechanical shovels are used to excavate the ore, which is dumped into trucks for transportation to processing plants.
Ore is mined underground with the ore transported to the surface by skips or trucks. The rock is crushed coarsely and screened. It then undergoes rough crushing and fine grinding, which breaks the ore into small particles. A flotation process may also be used to separate pure metal from waste rock particles. Debris, referred to as tailings, sinks and is removed from the bottom and the froth is skimmed off and the resulting metal sulphide concentrate is dried.
Ore mining offers the opportunity to be involved in a range of mining, extraction and refining processes. Ore mining occurs in all states of Australia, with the potential for people to work in remote locations.
Metal ore mining is one of the largest sectors in primary industries. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2006 more than 34,000 people were employed in Metal Ore Mining with over 30,000 of those in full-time employment and just under 2,000 working part-time. Ore Mining contributed over $44 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2006.
The Non-Metallic Mineral Mining and Quarrying industry undertakes the mining and quarrying of sand, gravel, crushed rock and clay that is processed for building and construction, agriculture and manufacturing. Approximately 90% of the aggregates output from quarries in Australia are used in the building and construction industries. Aggregates are the processed rock, gravel and sand products we use to help build houses, schools, roads, bridges, commercial and industrial buildings, airports, railways and other basic infrastructure.
The industry comprises quarry operators and equipment and service providers. Quarry operators range from large multi-national companies operating throughout the metropolitan and regional centres to small family owned quarries and municipal quarries serving regional and rural markets.
Quarrying is part of a chain of inter-connected activities. These extend from the finding and securing of earth resources, to processing and the manufacture and transportation of simple as well as sophisticated construction and building materials. It also involves the interactions and impacts on surrounding communities and ultimately to the recycling and post extractive end-uses, where old quarries are put to new uses.
In 2000, the sector produced over 130 million tonnes of aggregates for building and construction purposes with an estimated ex-quarry value of $1.3 billion. The majority of these aggregates were produced from quarries within 100 km of our cities and town centres.
Like all sectors of the mining industry, this sector faces the challenge of introducing new and innovative technologies and management practices in waste minimisation and natural resource management to respond to environmental concerns. The Quarrying sector is recycling and there’s re-use of demolition materials which is contributing to a reduction in landfill.
Based on the latest Census data, in 2006 the Non-Metallic Mineral Mining and Quarrying industry employed over 8,300, with more than 7,000 of those full-time and more than 700 working part-time. The Mining industry, which includes this sector, contributed over $44.2 billion to annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2006-2007.
Exploration and Other Mining Support Services contribute to Australia's profitable mining industry. Large mining companies usually undertake exploration and conduct geological research to determine where to mine. During the target generation phase, companies utilise mapping, geophysics and geophysical testing of the surface and subsurface materials to determine whether mineral deposits do in fact occur at the specified site. During the resource evaluation phase, the grade and quantity of the mineral deposits found is determined.
Alongside exploration, services include the cementing of oil and gas well castings, directional drilling and redrilling, draining and pumping services and other oil and gas field support. The oil and gas industry uses large wells with castings, which need to be secured before a well can be used. Companies in this sector are responsible for cementing these wells to ensure the safety of both the well and those working in or around it.
Others in this sector undertake directional drilling to install cables and pipelines for gas, oil and water lines. Directional drilling often occurs underneath structures such as watercourses, roads or mining operations, so it is important that the drilling is done with the utmost concern for safety. Drilling also has a separate mainland (onshore) focus compared to offshore drilling. Onshore drilling is not only used in the exploration phase but also in the extraction of ore bodies by drilling and blasting.
Another key mining support service is the pumping and drainage of materials within mines and mining operations as it is not only the oil and gas that need to be pumped as water is used by mining operations for materials processing and refining. To ensure these processes are undertaken in the appropriate manner, large water pumping and drainage systems are required to supply water.
Based on the 2006 Census there were more than 19,100 people working in Exploration and Other Mining Support Services, with more than 15,800 full-time and over 1,500 working part-time. The sector contributed more than $4.5 billion annually to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the 2006-2007 financial year.