Overview of iron ore mining in Australia
Iron ore is Australia’s fourth largest minerals earner, has produced 270 Mt in 2006, almost 16% of the world’s production. About 92% of its annual production is exported to integrated steel markets in Asia. In order to cater for expected demand from Asian markets, iron ore exported in the year 2006 was 248.4 Mt out of its production of 270 Mt The Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region of the northwest Australia is host to 98% of Australia’s iron ore mines, with minor production from Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. The big two producers in the Pilbara are BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Australia’s iron ore resources have been estimated at 32 billion tons.
BHP Billiton’s wholly owned subsidiary, BHP Iron Ore Pty Ltd. is Australia’s largest iron ore producer, with total reserves estimated at 3,200 Mt. BHP operates three primary iron ore operations that produce in the region of 70 Mt of ore per year, most being destined for steel makers in Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Europe.
The Mount Whaleback ore body at Mount Newman mine alone contains 750 Mt of ore grading at 64.7% of which 33 Mt of high-grade iron is produced per year. Other mines proximal to Mount Newman are the Ore-bodies 29, 23 and 25. BHP Billiton has other mines at Goldsworthy, Yandi and Jimbledar. Goldsworthy comprises the Yarrie and Nimingarra ore bodies that have an annual capacity of 5.6 Mt. The Yandi Mine produces approximately 23 Mt per year and is also located close to the MAC (Mining Area C) that has resources estimated at 800Mt of high grade ore ranging from 60 – 64% iron. Jimbledar is located 40km east of Mt Newman and is wholly owned by BHP Billiton. The decision to develop the MAC has been given the go ahead, following negotiations with local Aboriginal groups. The mine has already started production since 2003 reaching capacity of 15 Mt/year. BHP Billiton is the world’s second largest iron ore exporter, after Brazil’s CVRD. BHP Billiton also has operations in South Australia, where hematite ore is mined at Iron Duke and Iron Knob in the Middle-back Ranges by BHP Steel and used in iron and steel making at Whyalla. The Mining Area C development has the potential to increase iron ore production by up to 15 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) by 2011. Rio Tinto’s Hamersley Iron produced a record 70 Mt of iron ore in 2001 from its five wholly owned mining operations in the Pilbara region, making it Australia’s second largest iron ore producer.
The Yandicoogina mine has ore reserves of 310 Mt grading at 58.5% iron and has a rated capacity of producing 15Mt/year. Other mining operations are Mount Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Brockman and Marandoo, all situated in the Hamersley Ranges, Pilbara region. All of Rio Tinto’s production is railed to the port of Dampier on the North West coast of Australia. Rio Tinto is developing its sixth mine, Nammuldi, located next to the Brockman mine, which it is also extending. Through Hamersley, Rio Tinto also owns 53% of Robe River, Australia’s third largest producer. Robe has resources between three and four billion tonnes containing greater than 57% iron – enough to last 100 years at current production levels. The major deposit currently being mined is Mesa J near Pannawonica. Robe River produced 27 Mt iron ore from its mines at Pannawonica. Production is shipped from the port facility at Cape Lambert. Robe River’s West Angelas deposit is remote from its Pannawonica operations and about halfway between Newman and Paraburdoo. The nearest port facilities to West Angelas at Cape Lambert are 400km away. West Angelas has a resource of at least 1 billion tonnes, including a proven and probable reserve of over 440 Mt grading at 62% iron. Rio Tinto and Robe’s partners have finally reached an agreement of the development of a rail link to West Angelas that is anticipated to have development costs in the region of A$ 800 million.
South Africa’s Kumba Resources are evaluating one of the last major deposits in Australia, Hope Downs. A feasibility study is underway at Hope Downs that will have to include a 360 km railway link from the project to the nearest port facilities. Over 50% of planned capital expenditure for the development of this project hinges on developing the infrastructure to service the mine. The deposit has a recoverable resource of 442 Mt grading at 61.7% iron.
Production has already been started at 6 Mt /year and is planned to be increased to 25 Mt per year in 2008 with an estimated life of mine of around 30 years. Ivanhoe Mines have reopened the Savage River mine in north-western Tasmania. The mine has proven and probable reserves of 105 Mt which will sustain operations for the next 25 years.
Ivanhoe intends selling 50% of its production to BHP, with the remainder sold to steel companies in South Korea and China. ABM and Ivanhoe Mines have merged their operations. Ivanhoe are to acquire the Long Plains magnetite deposit from Pasminco. Long Plains is located just south of the Savage River operation and has resources estimated at containing 30 Mt of magnetite. Portman Limited is currently expanding its operation at its Koolyanobbing Iron Ore Project, which has indicated and inferred resources totalling over 95 Mt grading at an average of over 63% iron (using a cut off grade of 58% iron).