Indigenous Australians mined in NSW for thousands of years before European settlement, and mining has been a mainstay of the Australian economy since, making Australia one of the largest mining nations in the world.
NSW is the third-most important mineral-producing state in Australia after Western Australia and Queensland, producing minerals in the year to June 2015 valued at over $20 billion.
Mineral mining is NSW’s largest export industry, representing about 30% of the state’s total exports.103 As well as coal, a diverse range of minerals including gold, base metals, mineral sands, gemstones, industrial minerals and construction materials are produced.
There are 12 major metalliferous mines in the state, 11 significant industrial mineral operations, plus a large number of smaller metallic and industrial mineral mines and numerous construction materials operations.
Around 40 new coal and mineral projects are proposed for development over the next decade in NSW.
The value of metallic mineral production in NSW was $3.7 billion in 2014-15, construction materials production was valued at around $650 million, and industrial mineral production was valued at around $300 million.
NSW minerals industry facts 2014-15
Estimated total value of mineral production was $20.3 billion.
Full-time direct mining employment was approximately 28,000.
Saleable coal production was 196.7 million tonnes, valued at $15.7 billion.
Coal exports increased to 173 million tonnes and were valued at $14.4 billion
The value of metallic mineral production was $3.74 billion
The value of construction materials production was around $650 million
The value of industrial mineral production was $300 million.
Private mineral exploration expenditure in NSW in 2014/15 was nearly $130 million.
The mineral-rich Lachlan Orogen geological zone, which dominates eastern NSW, continues to be a focus for exploration for a range of metals including gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc. Exploration for granite-related deposits endowed with metals such as molybdenum, tungsten and bismuth has continued in the New England area, and some areas of NSW are being actively explored for minerals for the first time in more than 20 years.
For a map of the sedimentary basins of NSW see:
In 2014-15, copper produced in NSW was valued at $1.5 billion.
Copper is the third most used metal after iron and aluminium due to its properties of high ductility and malleability and its resistance to corrosion.
NSW is considered one of the lowest-cost copper producing regions in the world. Copper is used extensively in power generation and transmission, telecommunications, electrical products and in electronics.
NSW silver production in 2014-15 was valued at $82 million.
Most production of silver in NSW occurs as a by-product of the mining of other metals, particularly the base metals lead and zinc.
Silver is crucial to solar energy in the manufacture of solar cells and on large silver-coated mirrors which reflect and concentrate solar energy onto collectors used to run power generators. Silver is also used in energy efficient windows, electrical appliances, prescription eyeglasses, medical equipment and traditional product, such as silverware and jewellery.
In 2014-15, NSW lead production was valued at $137 million.
Lead is used extensively in building construction, batteries, medicinal products, x-ray shielding and laboratory equipment for nuclear medicine. Lead is also a very effective sound insulation material and is used as a non-corrosive lining in the manufacture of shipping containers.
In 2014-15, NSW zinc production was valued at $202 million.
Zinc is most widely used as an anti-rust coating for iron and steel in construction, motor vehicle bodies and roof sheeting.
Zinc’s healing properties have been known for over 2,000 years and zinc is used in both modern and traditional medicine. Zinc is also significant in the manufacture of skin products, plastics and rubber tyres.
Rarer metallic minerals
Rarer metallic minerals such as nickel, cobalt and scandium are found around Young, Nyngan and Condobolin in western NSW.
Nickel is used in a vast array of modern products such as stainless steel, coins and magnets.
Cobalt is very resistant to corrosion and damage, even at high temperature. Cobalt 60, a radioactive isotope, is used in medicine to destroy cancerous tissue. In industry, Cobalt is used to detect flaws in metal parts. Cobalt is also used in the manufacture of jet engines and gas turbine parts, as pigment in pottery, glass enamels and paint.
In 2014-15, NSW produced industrial (non metallic) minerals valued at $300m.
NSW has a vast array of industrial minerals such as clays, diatomite, dimension stone, dolomite, feldspar, garnet, gemstones, gypsum, limestone, magnesite, magnetite, mineral sands (including rutile and zircon), serpentinite, silica and zeolites. There are also deposits of barite, prophyllite and vermiculite in NSW which are not currently mined.
In 2014-15, total production in NSW of mineral sands was 544,000 tonnes, all of which came from mines in the Murray Basin.
Mineral sands are processed predominantly for rutile and zircon with smaller amounts of ilmenite and monazite.
Mineral sands were first mined in Australia in the 1930’s at Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast.
Mineral sands production is expanding near Broken Hill in the far west of NSW, which is known to be one of the world’s prime mineral sands areas. This expansion is contributing to Australia’s status as holding the world’s largest known resources of rutile (50%) and zircon (45%).
Rutile and Ilmenite
Rutile and ilmenite are used in the manufacture of titanium pigment which has a range of uses such as in paints, sunscreens, plastics, paper, inks and textiles.
Rutile and ilmenite are also used to manufacture titanium metal. With its unique properties of strength, light weight and non-toxicity, titanium metal is ideal for uses in the aviation and aerospace industries as well as for artificial limbs, pacemakers, foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
Zircon, which is a hard glassy material, is another derivative of mineral sands.
Zircon is used in the manufacture of glazes for ceramic tiles, pottery and dinnerware. Its low toxicity has also led to its use in the manufacture of phosphates for kidney dialysis, in medicines, pharmaceuticals and food products.
Serpentinite is used predominantly as flux in steelmaking, with the Port Kembla Steelworks being a major domestic consumer.
There are ten different types of silica. Silica sand, a type of fine silica, is used in the manufacture of cement and glass. Coarse silica is used in steelmaking, as decorative aggregate and as filtration gravels. Quartz, a type of coarse silica, is used as reinforcing filler in paints and electronics.
Most gold mined in Australia today is too small to be seen with the naked eye and is quite unlike the gold found by the early fossickers. Gold currently mined in NSW is very fine grained and typically has a concentration of less than 5 grams in every tonne of rock mined.
NSW is currently Australia’s second largest gold producing State, with significant production coming from Cadia Valley Operations near Orange, Northparkes Mine near Parkes, Peak gold mine at Cobar and Cowal gold mine near West Wyalong.
In 2014-15, gold produced in NSW was valued at about $1.7 billion.
In 2014-15, NSW produced 253 million tonnes of raw coal, yielding 197 million tonnes of saleable coal from 52 mines across five major coal fields.
Around 80% of the total value of mineral production of NSW is derived from thermal and coking coal and around 85% of total electricity needs in NSW are met with locally mined thermal coal.
In 2014-15, East Asia continued to be the major market for NSW coal, with major customers being Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and China and about 173 million tonnes of coal valued at about $14.4 billion was exported.
On the back of increased demand from East Asia the number of mines is set to increase with around 15 new mines or major expansions planned for the State in the next decade.
To see a map of the coal fields of NSW see:
Concentrated around the Singleton and Muswellbrook districts, the Hunter coalfield is the largest coal-producing region in NSW and will continue to grow with new and expanded mines planned. Approved developments include the newly developed Glencore mine at Ravensworth North as well as the expansion of the BHP Billiton-owned Mt Arthur coal complex.
In the Newcastle coalfield, some underground mines have closed due to a lack of reserves. However, production may increase with new and extended mines planned.
In the New England region, the Gunnedah coalfield has the potential to become an important producer, with estimated resources of 3 billion tonnes.103 A number of new small to mid-sized mines have started in the coalfield over the last 10 years, including the Whitehaven Coal-owned Maules Creek open-cut mine, which commenced coal production in early 2015.
In the Western coalfield, which extends from near Lithgow to Ulan, coal production has increased with the development of large projects in the north of the coalfield, including the already commenced Wilpinjong open-cut mine and the Moolarben Coal Stage 1 mine and Stage 2 mine.
The Southern coalfield produces high-grade coking coal for the production of steel. The NSW Government has approved expansion projects for BHP Billiton and Wollongong Coal Limited (formerly Gujarat NRE Coking Coal Limited) costing more than $600 million.