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Where Is Coal Found in Australia?

Where Is Coal Found in Australia?

Where Is Coal Found in Australia?

28 January 2022

Where Is Coal Found in Australia?

Coal is an important commodity that powers not only energy production but also a significant portion of Australia’s national economy.

Used for electricity generation and steel production, coal is consistently among Australia’s top exports. In 2019-2020 Australia exported $54.62 billion worth of the product.[1]

But where is coal found in Australia?

Coal is found in underground deposits across Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia[2]. However, most of the explored deposits are in Queensland and New South Wales.

There are different types of coal found in Australia. Black coal – also known as anthracite or bituminous coal – dominates in central Queensland and the Sydney Basin around central New South Wales, with other deposits also found around the country. Brown coal or lignite is found in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, plus other regions in Queensland and New South Wales.

As one of the world’s biggest producers, Australia’s coal riches have provided decades of access to affordable and reliable energy for nation-building[3]. Coal-mining has also supported jobs and opportunities for thousands of people across regional areas.

The coal industry in Australia is tipped to continue to thrive due to the low-ash, high-quality energy production compared to other markets, as well as ongoing demand for steel and cement-making in Asia[4].

How is coal found and mined?

The exploration and development of coal mines in Australia follows rigorous, science-based procedures, conducted side-by-side with environmental assessments.

Australia’s long history of coal use traces back to First Nations. It continued in the early settlement era, when black coal was first mined and exported from 1791 around Newcastle[5].

Contemporary coal exploration techniques use geophysics and seismic surveys to reveal underground structures. Drilling samples can then confirm the presence, quality and depth of the coal[6].

Coal mining is common around the world because the resource has become such a widely used product. Brown coal is largely used for energy production, including in Australia where more than half the nation’s electricity is sourced from coal power[7]. Black coking coal is used in the production of iron, steel, alumina, manufacturing and other chemicals. 

Where is coal found in Australia?

Recoverable coal reserves are located across the country. So where is the coal found in Australia?

Coal formed in layers, known as strata, in basins[8]. Significant resources have been identified in the Bowen, Maryborough, Surat, Laura Basins that stretch across central and southern Queensland. In New South Wales, the Surat and Sydney Basins continue through the north, centre and west of the state.

The huge Eromanga Basin is spread across Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia,  where it meets the Arckaringa Basin. Victoria is home to the significant brown coal deposits of the Murray and Gippsland Basins.

In Western Australia, the Perth, Collie and Canning Basins are also known to have significant reserves of coal.

There are more than 100 black coal mines across the country but coal-mining is concentrated in Queensland and New South Wales.

There are 39 coal mines operating in New South Wales[9], including 17 underground mines, which together employed almost 22,000 people directly in mid-2021. In Queensland, there are more than 50 mines[10]. Around the country, about 80 per cent of mines are open-cut[11].

This can be a safer and more efficient way to mine coal than underground operations.

Where is coal seam gas found in Australia?

Coal seam gas is located within coal reserves as a naturally occurring gas. While natural gases have been extracted for decades in Australia, large-scale commercial production of coal seam gas started in the mid-1990s in Queensland’s Bowen Basin[12].

Where is coal seam gas found in Australia? In addition to the expansion of extractions from the Bowen Basin, southern Queensland’s Surat Basin was advanced throughout the 2000s and 2010s.

In New South Wales, extensive reserves have been found in the Sydney, Gunnedah, Clarence-Moreton and Gloucester Basins.

There are also other yet-to-be-explored reserves in coal basins around the country.

Where is black coal found in Australia? 

Metallurgical or coking coal is the dominant type of coal in Australia, so where is black coal found in Australia?

About 60 per cent of the known economic reserves are located in Queensland, with about a quarter of the developable resources found in New South Wales[13].

The reserves were laid down between 150 million and 280 million years ago in the Permian and Jurassic ages.

This high-quality black coal is mainly exported to Asian nations for use in industrial and manufacturing processes[14]. In 2018-2019, 88 per cent of bulk black coal production was exported.

Smaller but still locally significant reserves of black coal can be found around Collie in Western Australia, Leigh Creek in South Australia and Fingal and Kimbolton in Tasmania. 

The largest coal mines in Australia

According to industry analysts GlobalData, the five highest-production coal mines in Australia are located across the country and include both brown and black coal.

Loy Yang Mine

Victoria’s Loy Yang open-cut mine provides fuel for about 50 per cent of the state’s electricity needs. Owned and operated by AGL, the brown coal mine covers about 6000 hectares in the Latrobe Valley, about 165 kilometres southeast of Melbourne.

The mine and its associated power plants are key parts of Australia’s national electricity market. GlobalData’s mining database estimated the mine produced about 20.934 MTPA of coal in 2020.

Moolarben Mine

The New South Wales Moolarben Mine is an open-cut and underground mine owned by Yancoal. Following an expansion in 2017 it has approval to produce up to 24 MTPA. GlobalData’s mining database said its production in 2020 was 19.7 MTPA

Goonyella Riverside Mine

This Queensland open-cut coking coal mine was estimated to produce 17.53 MTPA in 2020, according to GlobalData. The Bowen Basin mine has operated since 1982 and is currently owned by BMA, a BHP and Mitsubishi Development joint venture. 

Mount Arthur Coal Mine

The New South Wales Mt Arthur coal mine is operated by New South Wales Energy Coal and fully owned by BHP. Located in the Hunter Valley, it is an export-only coal mine for energy production. Global Data statistics said its production in 2020 was 16.052 MTPA

Rolleston Mine

Rolleston Mine, in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, produces thermal coal for the export market. The open-cut mine is owned and operated by Glencore. Approved to extract up to 19 MTPA, the mine was estimated to produce 14.594 MTPA in 2020.

Coal distribution in Australia

Australia’s coal resources will continue to be significant into the future.  There are known to be 263 deposits of black coal across the country and almost 100 developed mines[15].

This is about 41 per cent of the economic demonstrated resources (EDR), meaning that there remain significant resources to be realised in the future.

Coal distribution in Australia varies for black and brown coal. Globally, it has been estimated that Australia holds about 10 per cent of the economically viable resources of black coal[16].

The world leaders in coal reserves are the United States, China and India.

In terms of brown coal, Australia is ranked second in the world for its reserves, behind Russia and ahead of Germany and the United States. 

Learn more about coal in Australia with Bravus 

Coal mining is an important industry for all Australians. More than 50,000 workers are employed directly in coal mining, with another 120,000 indirect roles.

The sector paid more than $5.2 billion to states in taxes in 2019-2020. This funds schools, roads and hospitals.

To learn more about the sector, including 15 interesting coal-mining facts, or to find out what technology is involved in using coal, or even what is open cut mining, visit the Bravus features page.

Find out the facts about environmental management at the Carmichael Mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

[1] https://www.dfat.gov.au/publications/trade-and-investment/trade-and-investment-glance-2021 

[2] https://www.ga.gov.au/data-pubs/data-and-publications-search/publications/australian-minerals-resource-assessment/coal

[3] https://www.iea.org/reports/coal-2020/supply

[4] https://www.minerals.org.au/coal-building-australias-future

[5] https://www.ga.gov.au/education/classroom-resources/minerals-energy/australian-energy-facts/coal

[6] https://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/province-sedimentary-basin-geology/coal-geology

[7] https://www.energy.gov.au/data/electricity-generation

[8] https://www.ga.gov.au/education/classroom-resources/minerals-energy/australian-energy-facts/coal

[9] https://www.coalservices.com.au/mining/statistics-2/

[10] Guide Printing | Business and Industry | Queensland Government

[11] Coal | Geoscience Australia (ga.gov.au)

[12] http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/petroleum-resources/coal-seam-gas

[13] https://www.ga.gov.au/data-pubs/data-and-publications-search/publications/australian-minerals-resource-assessment/coal#:~:text=Australia's%20principal%20black%20coal%20producing,Fingal%20and%20Kimbolton%20in%20Tasmania.

[14] https://www.ga.gov.au/digital-publication/aecr2021/coal

[15] https://ecat.ga.gov.au/geonetwork/srv/eng/catalog.search#/metadata/144533

[16] Ibid.