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Minerals and Energy

Summary

  • Gross Regional Mining product was valued at $356M in 2016-17
  • Mining and Petroleum sales have declined in recent years with the closure of iron ore mines (Koolan and Cockatoo Islands) and ramping down or cessation in diamond production at Argyle and Ellendale mines respectively.
  • Future prospects are strong with Sheffield Resources Thunderbird mineral sands (zircon & titanium) and Northern Minerals Heavy Rare Earth Minerals coming into production.
  • Improvements in the global oil price have initiated production restart on existing onshore oil fields.

History of Kimberley Mining

The Kimberley region has a long history of mining activity, commencing with the discovery of gold in Halls Creek in 1885 which led to a brief gold rush, opened up the east Kimberley, the port of Wyndham and the establishment of a number of cattle stations.

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The construction of the first iron ore mine in WA began in 1944 on Cockatoo Island with the first shipments of iron ore made in 1951. In the 1980s diamond and zinc/lead deposits were discovered and mines were commissioned at Argyle (diamonds) and Cadjebut (zinc/lead). Further exploration for a variety of resources, including gold near Halls Creek, continues.

 

Status

Western Australia’s resources industry grew significantly over the past decade due to unprecedented overseas demand, which resulted in a mineral production and revenue increase from $27.9 billion in 2002-03 to $105 billion in 2016-17.

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This represents half of Australia’s total resources value, and is dominated by the value of Pilbara and Commonwealth offshore petroleum production.  The $356 million total share of WA production from the Kimberley is represents 0.34% of the state total.

 

Trend

In 2016-17, the Kimberley’s total mineral, oil and gas production contracted by around 70% with approximately 90% of value from diamonds and gold, then other precious metals, base metals and construction materials as shown in the chart below.  All commodities declined in volume and value except gold, silver and gems.

 

Kimberley Production by Commodity Share 2016-17

Kimberley Production by Commodity Share 2016-17

Iron ore production previously dominated the mineral production values in the Kimberley.  The dramatic decline is due to the closure of iron ore mines on Cockatoo and Koolan Islands, which had averaged over the previous decade annual production value of $340 million, however, these are expected to reopen in 2018 once port facilities are again functional.  Similarly, mines going into ‘care and maintenance’* in 2016 led to 90% decrease in copper, cobalt and nickel.

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*Care and maintenance is a term used in the mining industry to describe processes and conditions on a closed mine site where there is potential to recommence operations at a later date.  During a care and maintenance phase, production is stopped but the site is managed to ensure it remains in a safe and stable condition.

The value of minerals produced in the Kimberley has been fairly volatile as production is dependent on world demand. Geographically the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley produced the greatest value of minerals ($270 million) in 2016/17, followed by the Shire of Halls Creek ($81 million), the Shire of Broome ($4 million) and the Shire of Derby West Kimberley ($1 million).

Total Value of Mining Production by LGA 2002-03 to 2016-17

Source: Department of Minerals and Petroleum and Department of Regional Development,                      Mineral Production in Western Australia Adjusted for Petroleum 2016/17.

 

Iron Ore

Iron Ore has been a valuable mining commodity with ore bodies on the Kimberley islands in the Buccaneer Archipelago of a very high grade.  Recent closures of iron ore mines have impacted the Kimberley community and economy, however, operations may recommence in the future pending market / economic conditions and overcoming access issues to the Koolan Island pit due to inundation.

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Export operations from the Mount Gibson mine on Koolan Island immediately halted and 300 jobs were lost in 2014 when the island seawall collapsed flooding the iron ore pit with seawater. The operation on Koolan Island is currently being resurrected with an insurance payout and improved iron ore prices driving a decision to rebuild the Main Pit seawall and resume large scale production at a cost of $100 million.  The return of around 80 and 315 jobs during reconstructions and operation respectively may also underpin the return of a regular air service between Derby and Perth.

Pluton Resources Cockatoo Island ceased production in 2015 (due to insolvency) and ore pit filled with seawater in October 2016 after the power supply for the de-watering pumps was discontinued.

 

Diamonds

While the Kimberley is famous for producing rare pink (Argyle) and yellow (Ellendale) diamonds, the outlook is for gradual reduction in the industry and production with the:

  • Kimberley Diamond Mine at Ellendale closed in mid 2015 and remains in care and maintenance;
  • Argyle Mine in transition to shut down mode in 2020
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The Kimberley is famous for its production of diamonds and accounts for all of Western Australia’s diamond output.  The Argyle diamond mine south of Kununurra is owned and operated by Rio Tinto and is the largest supplier, by volume in the world and the only known source of pink diamonds.  The region is also a significant producer of natural coloured diamonds including champagne, cognac, and rare blue diamonds.  The mine has been operating since 1983 and has produced more than 800 million carats of rough diamonds.  It is one of the world’s largest supplier of diamonds and the world’s largest supplier of natural coloured diamonds.

The east of Broome, the Ellendale Mine diamond mine which produced 50% of the worlds yellow diamonds closed in mid 2015.  Recent exploratory drilling further to the east has identified new prospective and is considered a significant discovery by a global miner.

 

New Prospects, New Investment in Regional Projects

Mineral Sands

Mineral sands include Titanium dioxide and Zircon products used in the manufacture of paints and plastics, ceramics, sunscreen, toothpaste, artificial joints and welding rods.

The Sheffield Resources Thunderbird Project is large-scale, long-life mineral sands mining and processing project located on the Dampier Peninsula located halfway between Broome and Derby, north west of the Great Northern Highway.

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Based on assessments of the quantity and quality of the resource, this resource is considered one of the world’s best Mineral Sands deposits with current projections indicate a mine life of more than 40 years.  Sheffield have secured binding agreements for a significant proportion of the Zircon and Ilmenite production, and secured project funding.  Sheffield is currently finalising Native Title agreement with the traditional owner Native Title claimants which must be settled prior to the granting of the mining lease.

Current plans include up to 100 jobs during construction through to processing production and the development of export capability through the Derby Port using ‘ship-loader’ infrastructure previously used for lead and zinc exports.  With local contractors and a number of local aboriginal employees, Thunderbird has commenced initial approved earthworks in January 2018.  First production is planned for the second half of 2019.

 

Heavy Rare Earth Elements

Heavy Rare Earth Elements (eg Dysprosium, Lutetium and Terbium) are important elements in the manufacture of modern electronics, medical imaging, permanent magnet motors of wind turbines and hybrid vehicles in renewable energy technology.

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At the Northern Minerals Limited Brown’s Range project near Ringer Soak (Kundat Djaru) Aboriginal Community about 170km south east of Halls Creek a globally significant high grade deposit of Dysprosium is being developed.  Northern Minerals has commenced construction on the pilot stage of Australia’s first heavy rare earth mine which will scale up from pilot to full operations by 2020-21 to extract heavy rare earth from the only mine outside of China.

 

Energy – Oil and gas

Offshore

Major resource companies have invested heavily in Western Australia to increase production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Asian markets with combined Ichthys and Prelude capital expenditure in WA of $31.6B.  In the last decade, investment in LNG export capacity is at record highs, but remains susceptible to global changes in demand linked to oil and shale gas prices.

WA Liquefied Natural Gas Industry Profile December 2017

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LNG and support infrastructure for offshore rigs in the Browse Basin are prominent contributors to the Kimberley economy with Broome providing the key helicopter base for servicing platforms drawing gas up to 450 km offshore.

However, the offshore extraction and processing of natural gas and the allied industrialisation of the Kimberley led to widespread protest and divided Broome.  Consequently, gas processing trains are now located in the Northern Territory or floating LNG vessels.  Floating LNG on Prelude is now hooked up and commissioning complete for start up in Q3 2018.

Onshore

There is significant global interest in developing predominately onshore Canning Basin gas reserves and these projects could make significant positive impact on the Kimberley economy with resident service and operational workforces.

Summary of Petroleum Prospectivity Canning Basin

Most onshore oil and gas in the Canning Basin is shale gas and considered ‘tight’.  Deposits in such geology require hydraulic fracturing or fracking to enable commercial extraction.  Fracking is controversial in the Kimberley (as in southern regions) and campaigns by environmental groups have impacted the social licence for production and exploration ventures.  In September 2017, the WA Government implemented a moratorium on fracking while a scientific enquiry is conducted in 2017-18.  This ban applies during exploration and production for existing and future petroleum titles in the Kimberley.

 

Oil

Buru Energy is operating the Ungani conventional oilfield in the Canning Basin recommenced shipping crude oil out of the Wyndham Port in June 2017.  Production ramped up from 1000 barrels per day (BOPD) in Q2 2017 to 1500 BOPD in Q4 2017 with a target of 3000 BOPD in Q2 2018.  Buru Canning portfolio includes the Blina oil field east of Broome which went into care and maintenance after suspension of operations in February 2013.

 

Page last updated: Wed Oct 3 2018 7:58:13 PM

Contact Us

Don't hesitate to call the Kimberley Development Commission with any queries or comments.

Send an Enquiry

7 Ebony Street (PO Box 620)
Kununurra Western Australia 6743

T: +61 8 9148 2100

Upstairs: Cnr Napier & Dampier Terrace (PO Box 172)
Broome, Western Australia 6725

T: +61 8 9194 3000

Derby Western Australia 6728

T: +61 8 9194 3000 (Broome)