What we mine & why we mine
Minerals are central to our modern way of life. They are essential to producing materials for construction and manufacturing: steel and cement cannot be made without coking coal. Electricity generated from thermal coal enables us to heat and cool our homes, and keeps the lights on; prepare and preserve food; have fresh drinking water; and run our offices and businesses. Plasma TVs, mobiles and iPods all need electricity to run and are made of steel, alloys, copper, lead, zinc and platinum. The list is endless.
NSW has an abundance of these vital minerals. Along with coal, NSW has deposits of metallic minerals like gold, copper, silver, lead and zinc, and industrial minerals like mineral sands, clays and limestone. These minerals are owned by the NSW Government on behalf of the people of NSW.
Extracting these minerals not only lets us use them for energy, manufacturing and products, but also provides employment and a significant economic return to the state. The money spent by our miners, and businesses that supply our mines, flows through the state economy. And the royalties returned to the NSW Government help provide essential services and infrastructure that we all rely on, like trains, bridges, and roads, and help our nurses, teachers and police do their jobs.
Coal is a combustible rock made mainly of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Coal is formed when accumulated plant material is buried, decays and is exposed to heat and pressure over millions of years. Layers of coal are interspersed with other sedimentary material, like shale and sandstone, to form coal beds or seams which range in size from less than one millimetre to several metres thick. There are two main types of coal: black and brown.
Black coal contains less moisture, giving it a higher energy value than brown coal. Black coal also emits fewer greenhouse gases than brown coal. Brown coal (also known as lignite) is relatively soft, with a lower carbon content and higher moisture content than black coal. Brown coal is mined only in Victoria.
The black coal mined in NSW plays a fundamental role in providing energy for our everyday lives here at home. In fact, 84% of NSW electricity comes from coal fired power stations that are supplied by NSW coal. Black coal used to generate electricity is called thermal coal, energy coal or steaming coal, and most of this coal is mined in the Hunter Valley. Some goes straight to nearby power stations like the Bayswater, Eraring and Liddell power stations, to power homes across NSW. But most of our thermal coal is exported, mainly to Asian countries, providing an important energy source for emerging economies and export revenue for our national economy.
We know that coal fired power stations emit greenhouse gases. While we support the growth of renewable energy technologies as part of the global energy mix, from the International Energy Agency we know that coal will be the world’s primary energy source for many years to come. You can learn about our investments in the research and development of low emissions technologies, like carbon capture and storage, to limit our environmental impact at www.newgencoal.com.au.
Some coal mined in NSW, in the Southern coalfield, is used in coke-making, which is mainly used in blast furnaces that produce steel. This type of coal is called coking or metallurgical coal and is also used to make cement.
Gold mostly has a concentration of less than 5 grams in every tonne of rock mined. Gold is not just used for currency and jewellery; it is also used to make lifesaving medical equipment, and for components in TVs, computers, DVDs and space satellites. NSW is Australia’s second largest gold producing state, with significant production coming from mining operations near Orange, Parkes and West Wyalong in the state’s central west and south, including one of Australia’s largest gold mines Cadia Valley Operations.
Copper is used in power generation and transmission, telecommunications, electrical products and in electronics. It is the third most-consumed metal in the world, after iron and aluminium. NSW has major copper mines around Orange, Parkes, Cobar and West Wyalong, which is usually mined from the same mineral deposits as gold.
NSW also has deposits of silver, zinc, rare metallic minerals (like nickel, cobalt and scandium) as well as industrial minerals and mineral sands.