Australia continued as the world's third-largest producer of minerals and metals. Its mineral industry, flourishing in all six states and the Northern Territory, served as a leading catalyst for the economy, which grew 4% in 2000. The country had the world's largest economic demonstrated resources (EDR) of lead, mineral sands, nickel, silver, tantalum, uranium, and zinc, and its EDR ranked in the top six for bauxite, black coal, brown coal, cobalt, copper, gem and near-gem diamonds, gold, iron ore, lithium, manganese ore, rare-earth oxides, and vanadium. The country is virtually self-sufficient in mineral commodities, commercially producing more than 60 minerals and metals. Successful exploration in the late 1960s led to a long-term mineral boom and a sharp increase in exports. Australia is the world's leading exporter of alumina, bauxite, coal, diamond, ilmenite, iron ore (the country's fourth-largest minerals earner), refined lead, rutile, and zircon. Export earnings increased to about $9.46 billion in the fourth quarter of 2000, a 42% increase over the same period in 1999.
Gold production in 2000 was 296,410 kg, a 4% decrease from 1999. Gold accounted for $2.73 billion of the country's $30.56 billion in total mineral export value, and reserves were estimated at 5,018 tons. Western Australia produced 75% of the country's 300 ton per year output. The largest producer in 2000 was Australian Gold Refineries, whose Perth Refinery, at Newburn, had an annual capacity of 95,000 kg and whose Kalgoorlie Refinery had an annual capacity of 46,000 kg. A feasibility study for the Granny Smith Mine anticipated about 10 tons of gold during the 6-year life of the opencut operation beginning in 2002. Mining also began in 2000 at the Carosue Dam opencut mine, with production planned at 3.4 to 4.4 tons per year of gold during a mine life of 8 to 10 years. In 2000, the country was the world's leading producer of alumina, bauxite (for the 30th consecutive year), chrysoprase, ilmenite, mined lead, precious opal, rutile, and zircon; ranked second in iron ore (with 15% of world production), mined cobalt, and mined zinc; ranked third in mined gold (with 10% of the world's output) and mined nickel; and was fourth in mined copper. Metallic minerals contributed 40% of the country's $25 billion in mineral and energy production in 2000, and industrial minerals contributed another 5%.
Australia produced 2,060 tons of silver in 2000, doubling 1996's output of 1,013 tons; reserves were estimated at 31,000 tons. Texas Silver Mines increased its indicated resources at Twin Hills, in southern Queensland, from 300 tons to 450 tons of silver equivalent (silver and gold). BHP Minerals and MIM Holdings are the two largest producers, with annual capacities of 750,000 and 375,000 kg, respectively.
In 2000, Australia produced 14.7 million carats of gem diamond (18.4 million in 1998), and 12 million carats of industrial diamond (22.5 million in 1998). Reserves were estimated at 82.4 million carats of gem and near-gem diamond, and 85.5 million of industrial diamond. Argyle's principal diamond ore body, the AK-1 lamproite pipe, near Kununurra, Western Australia, produced nearly twice the amount of diamond as any other in the world, able to supply 42 million carats a year, including some of the highest diamond grades—about 5% was of gem quality, including a small number of very rare pink diamonds; 40% was of near gem quality; and 55% was of industrial quality. Argyle's alluvial operations were scheduled to close in 2001.
The value of opal produced in 2000 was $152 million, up from $110 million in 1997. Lightning Ridge, in New South Wales, was the world's major source of black opal. Australia also produced 30% of the world's rough sapphire, valued at $40 million in 2000, down from $60 million in 1997; commercial production came from alluvial deposits. Jade was discovered in the form of nephrite, at the world's largest identified resource, in the Eyre Peninsula. Australia produced most of the world's chrysoprase, known as Australian jade. Other gemstones produced in the country incude agate, amethyst, chiastolite, emerald (aquamarine), garnet (25,000 tons in 2000), rhodonite, topaz, tourmaline, turquoise, and zircon. The value of gemstones produced in 2000 other than opal and sapphire was $16 million, up from $1.5 million in 1996.
Iron ore production in 2000 was 171 million tons, a 13% increase over 1999, following an average 3% decline in the 1990s; 97% percent of iron ore came from the Pilbara region. Reserves were estimated to be 15,500 million tons. BHP Iron Ore's Mining Area C—its next generation of greenfields mines, with a 4-billion-ton iron ore resource—anticipated an initial capacity of 5 million tons per year of ore throughput, with the potential to increase to 20 million tons per year. Perth-based Portman expected to quadruple iron ore production at its Koolyanobbing Mine to 8 million tons per year, and it was scheduled to produce 1.2 million tons per year of remnant premium-grade (68.5% iron) hematite fines on Cockatoo Island over two years. Hamersley Iron received government approval in 2000 to expand its Yandicoogina iron ore mine from 15 million tons per year to 20 million tons per year, to meet demand for its low-alumina, pisolitic, goethite-hematite fines ore.
Australia produced 5.38 million tons of bauxite in 2000, representing 40% of world output, with reserves of 3,800 million tons. Bauxite deposits in northern Queensland were among the world's largest; those in the Northern Territory were also in production.
The country produced 830,000 tons of contained copper in 2000, a 12% increase from 1999 and up from 560,000 in 1997. Reserves were estimated to be 22.2 million tons. WMC's Olympic Dam underground mine, in South Australia, was the country's largest copper mine, and a $1.1 billion expansion program was expected to increase production from 200,000 tons per year to 245,000. Production of gold and silver at the mine in 1999 was 2,426 kg and 26,438 kg, respectively.
Zinc output in 2000 was 1.4 million tons, 16% of world output, with reserves of 32 million tons. The McArthur River base-metal mine, in the Northern Territory, had record-setting tonnages of bulk concentrate.
In 2000, the country produced 1.6 million tons of manganese ore (48% manganese content), with reserves of 134 million tons. Groote Eylandt Mining Co. mined about 10% of the world's manganese at its 2.4-million-ton capacity Eylandt open cut operations, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Other 2000 production figures in tons were: alumina, 15.7 million; lead, 678,000 (23% of world production, and reserves of 14.6 million tons); nickel, 168,000, all from Western Australia, with reserves of 10.6 million tons; and tin, 9,146, 5% of the world's tin, all by Australia's only producer, Renison Bell Mine, in Tasmania, with reserves of 100,900 tons.
Australia had a substantial portion of the world's mineral sand resources—about 29% for ilmenite, 31% for rutile, and 46% for zircon—and in 2000 produced 28% of the world's ilmenite (2.2 million tons, with reserves of 180.9 million), 55% of the world's rutile (237,000 tons, with reserves of 19.8 million), and 42% of the world's zircon, with reserves of 26.3 million tons. The dominant producer of zircon was Iluka Resources, with a capacity of 300 tons per year. Australia was also one of the world's leading producers of titanium and zirconium (373,000 tons in 2000). Gwalia Consolidated was the world's largest producer of lithium minerals (spodumene) and of tantalum in the form of concentrates, supplying a quarter of the world's annual tantalum requirements. Reserves were estimated at 156,000 tons lithium and 24,700 tons of tantalum. In 2000, the Greenbushes Mine, south of Perth, was the world's largest and highest-grade resource for spodumene, 64,983 tons of which was produced in the country, down from 117,094 in 1996. Gwalia controlled the world's largest stock of tantalum resources and produced 415 tons from two operations in Western Australia.
Other industrial minerals produced in Australia in 2000 included clays, diatomite, gypsum (3.8 million tons), limestone (12 million tons), magnesite (350,000 tons, up from 281,000 the previous year, with reserves of 246 million tons), phosphate rock (805,000 tons, up from 1,200 in 1999), salt, sand and gravel, silica (2.5 million tons), and dimension stone (100,000 tons).