Coal in Australia

Coal is mined in every state of Australia. Mining occurs mainly in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. About 75% of coal mined in Australia is exported, mostly to eastern Asia,[1] and of the balance most is used in electricity generation. Coal production in Australia increased 13.6% between 2005 and 2010 and 5.3% between 2009 and 2010.[2] In 2016, Australia was the biggest net exporter of coal, with 32% of global exports (389 Mt out of 1,213 Mt total), and was the fourth-highest producer with 6.9% of global production (503 Mt out of 7,269 Mt total). 77% of production was exported (389 Mt out of 503 Mt total).[3]

Coal mining in Australia has been criticized by members of the environmental movement,[4][5] due to carbon dioxide emissions during combustion. This criticism is primarily directed at thermal coal, for its connection to coal-fired power stations as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, and the link to climate change and the effects of global warming on Australia.[6] The burning of coal for electricity produces 29% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions, based on 2013-2014 Clean Energy Regulator data.[7]

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which followed the draft report in the Garnaut Climate Change Review, placed a price on carbon emissions through a reducing cap and trade emissions trading scheme and incentivised against carbon pollution temporarily, before it was revoked from 1 July 2014 onwards.

Forms of coal

Australian coal is either high-quality bituminous coal (black coal) or lower-quality lignite (brown coal).[8]

Bituminous coal is mined in Queensland and New South Wales, and is used for both domestic power generation and for export. It is mined underground or open-cut before being transported by rail to power stations or export shipping terminals.[9][10] Bituminous coal was also once transported to other Australian states for power generation and industrial boilers.

Lignite is mined in Victoria and South Australia,[11] and is of lower quality due to a lower thermal value largely caused by a high water content.[12] Ash content varies significantly but some Australian lignite have relatively low ash content.[13] As a result, Victoria adopted German power station and briquette technology in the 1920s to utilise the lignite reserves of the Latrobe Valley. In 2013 coal from three open cut lignite coal mines in Victoria is used for baseload power generation.[11]


Australian coal was first discovered in New South Wales by shipwreck survivors in August 1797, at Coalcliff, north of Wollongong. George Bass discovered coal soon after in the cliffs at Newcastle off of Point Solander.[14][15]

Production, exports and reserves

In 2008/09, 487 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 261 million tonnes was exported.[16]

In 2009, Australia was the fourth-highest coal producer in the world, producing 335 megatonnes (Mt) of anthracite and 64 Mt of lignite.[17] Australia was the biggest anthracite exporter, with 31% of global exports (262 Mt out of 836 Mt total). 78% of 2009 anthracite production was exported (262 Mt out of 335 Mt total). Australia's global anthracite export share was 14% of all production (836 Mt out of 5,990 Mt total).[18]

In 2011, coal exports were Australia’s second-largest source of export income, after iron ore exports.[19] In 2011, coal exports were worth A$47 billion Australian dollars, or US$47.8 billion, with US$15.6 billion coming from exports of thermal coal for power stations.[19] Coking coal generated A$22.4 billion of export revenue in 2012/13 financial year with thermal coal bringing in A$16.1 billion during the same period.[20]

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences in 2011 the economically demonstrated reserves to production ratios for bituminous coal and lignite in Australia are 111 years and 539 years respectively. However, these figures do not account for growth in production.[21] Bituminous coal exports from Australia have been growing at a rate of 5% (on average during the last 20 years). If this rate of growth would-be maintained to extinction all current economically demonstrated black coal in the country would be depleted in under 40 years. However, continued growth at that rate is unlikely to occur for such a long period, and this estimate does not reflect growth in the demonstrated resource. Explorations in the last decade has resulted in a significant increase in inferred coal resources which are now almost double the economically demonstrated resource.[22]

In 2010-11, Australia was the fifth largest producer of coal, and by proportion exported, and was the second largest exporter of coal in the world,[23] with most of the exports going to Japan. Total production of bituminous coal in Australia was 405 million tonnes (Mt.), down from 471 Mt. in 2009-10. The drop was largely as a result of the Queensland floods of January 2011 where production declined from an expected 200 Mt. to 163 Mt.[24]

In 2013/14, 430.9 million tonnes of coal was mined, of which 375.1 million tonnes was exported.[25] Coal provides fuel for about 69% of electricity production in Australia.[23] The Latrobe Valley in Victoria produced 98.5% of Australia’s total brown coal production of 57.8 Mt, down from 66.7 Mt in 2001-2, none of which was exported.

In 2013, Australia was the world's fifth-largest coal producer, after China, the United States, India, and Indonesia. However, in terms of proportion of production exported, Australia was the world's second largest coal exporter, with exports accounting for roughly 73% of coal production. Indonesia exports about 87% of its coal production.[23]

In 2016, Australia was the biggest net exporter of coal, with 32% of global exports (389 Mt out of 1,213 Mt total). It was still the fourth-highest producer with 6.9% of global production (503 Mt out of 7,269 Mt total). 77% of production was exported (389 Mt out of 503 Mt total).[3]

Major mines

The following table lists the major Australian Coal mines.[26]

Mine State Location Ultimate owner Coordinates Type of coal Million tons mined pa Million tons exported pa Major buyers Major method
AngleseaVICAngleseaAlcoa of Australia38°23′42″S 144°09′58″ELignite?nilAnglesea Power StationOpen Cut
BeltanaNSWSingletonXstrata32°39′22″S 151°07′16″EThermal7.6??Underground
BengallaNSWMuswellbrookCoal and Allied32°19′24″S 150°51′29″EThermal???Open Cut
CallideQLDCallide (Biloela)Anglo American 24°19′38″S 150°37′04″EThermal8.5??Open Cut
CapcoalQLDMiddlemountAnglo American22°57′50″S 148°33′00″EHard Coking Coal & PCI7??Open Cut & Underground
DawsonQLDDawson (Moura)Anglo Coal24°17′46″S 151°06′47″ESoft Coking & Thermal7??Open Cut
DraytonNSWHunter ValleyAnglo Coal32°20′46″S 150°54′40″ESoft Coking & Thermal7??Open Cut
BroadmeadowsQLDMoranbahBMA21°44′35″S 147°58′15″EHard Coking Coal4??Underground
BlackwaterQLDBlackwaterBMA23°42′36″S 147°33′00″EThermal/Coking13??Open Cut
Blair AtholQLDClermontRio Tinto22°41′28″S 147°31′59″EThermal12??Open Cut
Bulga CoalNSWSingletonOakbridge Group (Managed by Xstrata Coal)32°39′S 151°04′EThermal/Coking10.8allJapan, Nippon Steel, Nippon OilOpen Cut
BurtonQLDNeboPeabody Energy Australia21°34′12″S 148°10′59″EThermal/Coking4??Open Cut
CallideQLDBiloelaAnglo American24°19′01″S 150°37′23″E?4??Open Cut
CollinsvilleQLDCollinsvilleXstrata20°29′31″S 147°47′02″EThermal/Coking5??Open Cut
CoppabellaQLDCoppabellaPeabody Energy Australia21°50′56″S 148°25′59″E?7??Open Cut
CurraghQLDBlackwaterWesfarmers23°28′30″S 148°51′43″EThermal/Coking7??Open Cut
Goonyella/RiversideQLDMoranbahBMA21°43′48″S 147°58′44″EHard Coking Coal11??Open Cut/Underground
Griffin CoalWACollieLANCO Infratech33°21′32″S 116°09′11″EBituminous5nilBluewaters Power, Synergy PowerOpen Cut
Hail CreekQLDNeboRio Tinto Coal Australia (RTCA)21°29′06″S 148°22′05″EHard Coking Coal4.5all?Open Cut
JellinbahQLDBluffJellinbah Group23°30′15″S 148°52′59″EPCI and Soft Coking4.64.6Various steelmakers - Japan, China, India and BrazilOpen Cut
Lake VermontQLDDysartJellinbah Group22°26′58″S 148°25′21″EHard Coking Coal and PCI8.08.0Various steelmakers - Japan, China, India and BrazilOpen Cut
Loy YangVICTraralgonLoy Yang Power38°15′07″S 146°34′26″ELignite?nilLoy Yang Power StationOpen Cut
MoorvaleQLDMoranbahPeabody Energy Australia21°59′24″S 148°21′14″EThermal/PCI???Open Cut
Mount Arthur Coal (MAC)NSWMuswellbrookBHP Billiton32°20′01″S 151°52′36″EThermal1512?Open Cut
Mount Thorley Warkworth (MTW)NSWSingletonCoal & Allied32°37′30″S 151°05′24″EThermal/Coking???Open Cut
Moranbah NorthQLDMoranbahAnglo American21°52′26″S 147°57′50″EHard Coking Coal4.5??Underground
MorwellVICMorwellEngie Energy International38°16′22″S 146°23′30″ELignite20nilHazelwood Power Station,
Energy Brix
Open Cut
Norwich ParkQLDDysartBMA22°46′48″S 148°28′48″ESoft Coking Coal6all?Open Cut
NewlandsQLDGlendenXstrata21°12′43″S 147°53′24″EThermal/Coking12??Open Cut & Underground
Peak DownsQLDMoranbahBMA22°14′13″S 148°00′43″EHard Coking Coal13all?Open Cut
SarajiQLDDysartBMA22°21′43″S 148°17′24″EHard Coking Coal7.5all?Open Cut
UlanNSWUlan via MudgeeXstrata32°14′38″S 149°44′56″EThermal5??Open Cut & Underground
Wesfarmers Premier CoalWACollieWesfarmers33°24′40″S 116°14′20″EBituminous3.5nilSynergy PowerOpen Cut
YallournVICYallournEnergyAustralia38°10′42″S 146°20′21″ELignite?nilYallourn Power StationOpen Cut

Major export markets for Australian coal

Major Export Markets For Australian Coal (2014)[27]
Country/Area Million Tons Coking Million Tons Steaming Million Tons Total Rank % of exports
Korea (ROK)20.434.454.8314.1

Major coal export ports

The Port of Newcastle, New South Wales, is the world's largest and most efficient coal handling operation through its two terminals: Carrington and Kooragang. Australia has nine major coal-export ports,[28] including:

Major Australian Coal Export Ports
Port State Million Tons
Million Tons
Hay Point[30]QLD82.480.4
Abbot Point[30]QLD14.412.5
Port Kembla[32]NSW13.713.3

Major coal mining companies

Environmental impacts

The Australian community is understandably concerned about any mining activity that could place private or public property or valuable landscapes at risk.[33] The coal industry claims however that extensive rehabilitation of areas mined helps to ensure that land capability, after coal mining, meets agreed and appropriate standards.[34]

Coal is the principal fossil fuel used in power generation not only in Australia but in many other countries. Links between coal mining, coal burning, and climate change are being discussed widely in Australia.[35][36]

On 27 November 2006 the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales judge Justice Nicola Pain made the decision to set aside the Director-General's acceptance of the Environmental Assessment for the Anvil Hill coal mine,[37] on the grounds that it did not include a comprehensive greenhouse gas assessment, even though the proposed mining of coal was for export. However, on 7 June 2007 the planning minister for NSW Frank Sartor reversed this decision and approved the mine, attaching a list of 80 conditions to the mines operation including conservation offsets.[38]

Environmental regulation of coal mining

Commonwealth law

The main Commonwealth environmental laws potentially applicable to coal mining are the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and the Clean Energy Act 2011. The EPBC Act is triggered if a proposed action is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance, for example federally listed threatened species.

State laws

New South Wales

Relevant laws are mining law, land use planning law, biodiversity law and water law.

Pollution law

Coal mining requires a pollution control ('environment protection') licence under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) if it exceeds the following thresholds set out in Schedule 1 of the Act: if it is mining, processing or handling of coal (including tailings and chitter) at underground mines or open cut mines and (a) it has a capacity to produce more than 500 tonnes of coal per day, or (b) it has disturbed, is disturbing or will disturb a total surface area of more than 4 hectares of land by: (i) clearing or excavating, or (ii) constructing dams, ponds, drains, roads, railways or conveyors, or (iii) storing or depositing overburden or coal (including tailings and chitter).[39]


Clean coal technologies

The Federal Government has, as part of its pledge to mitigate global warming,[40] committed A$100 million to commission a climate change-fighting "clean coal" and carbon sequestration research institute to make Australia a leader in this emerging technology. Carbon sequestration technology is not expected to be commercially viable for at least 5 to 10 years,[41] but the Federal Labor government argues that it is a vital technology given Australia's reliance on coal-fired electricity.[42] The merits of "clean coal" have been highly disputed by some technical experts[43] and environment awareness groups.[44]

See also


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  12. "Lignite/ Brown Coal". Victoria State Governmant. Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Victoria, Australia. 4 March 2016. Archived from the original on 6 July 2018. Retrieved 8 January 2019. ...its high moisture content - which ranges from 48-70 per cent - reduces its effective energy content
  13. Durie, R. "THE CHARACTERISTICS OF AUSTRALIAN COALS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS IN COAL LIQUEFACTION" (PDF). R.W. Miller & Co. Pty. Ltd. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 April 2017. Retrieved 8 January 2019. These coals differ from the Tertiary brown coals of North America in that they have a much lower ash yield...
  14. Knibbs (1910). "Non-Metallic Minerals". Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No. 3 1910. Collins Street, Melbourne: McCarron, Bird & Co. p. 515.
  15. Power, Frederick (1912). "Chapter IV, New South Wales". Coalfields & Collieries of Australia. Sydney: Critchley Parker. p. 60.
  16. "Australia Mineral Statistics 2009- June Quarter" (PDF). Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 3 October 2009.
  17. IEA Key energy statistics 2010 Pages: 15
  18. IEA Key energy statistics 2010 Pages:15
  19. Reuters (5 September 2012). "New Frontier in Australian Mining Under Threat". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
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  24. "High cost of floods confirmed". Queensland Resources Council. 21 July 2011. Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
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  29. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. Trade & Cargo. Port Kembla Port Corporation. Retrieved on 23 January 2013.
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