New South Wales maps out industrial mineral opportunities

By IM Staff
Published: Thursday, 22 October 2015

The eastern Australian state of NSW is home to a large number of highly prospective industrial mineral deposits. Cameron Perks and David Forster* outline how the Geological Survey of New South Wales is producing an updated map of the region’s geology in order to showcase its potential to investors, geologists and the wider community.

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The Geological Survey of New South Wales (NSW) is re-mapping its industrial mineral deposits, updating the exiting 11-year old edition, with the aim of raising awareness about mining opportunities in the eastern Australian state. 

The map, "Industrial Mineral Opportunities in New South Wales", highlights the region’s diverse industrial mineral wealth. NSW is a globally renowned mining region, with an economy driven by large and varied mineral and coal deposits, exploration projects and a burgeoning renewable energy sector. 

The 1:1,500,000 map, which is due to be published in late 2015, showcases numerous current and recently opened industrial minerals mines, along with opportunities for a wide range of commodities. Also included are some of the state’s largest construction materials operations. 

The NSW industrial minerals industry currently produces heavy mineral sands, magnesite, magnetite, limestone, gypsum and silica in moderate to large quantities. The state is also a significant producer of bentonite, kaolin, sodium salt, dimension stone, plus zeolites and construction materials.

In the 2013-14 financial year, NSW produced over 600,000 tonnes heavy mineral sands from the Murray Basin, valued at over Australian dollar (A$) 290m ($211.7m**). The NSW portion of the Murray Basin hosts over 113m tonnes contained heavy minerals (zircon, ilmenite and rutile), and two operating mines. There are several new projects under development and ongoing exploration activity. 

NSW also produced around 357,000 tonnes agricultural lime and 3.6m tonnes limestone in 2013-14, valued at over A$24m.

The state is famous for gemstones, such as the black opal, unique to the state, and has also been a significant producer of industrial diamonds, corundum (sapphire and ruby), rhodonite and topaz (silexite). Many stunning mineral specimens have been produced from the Broken Hill line of lode, where the world famous Broken Hill silver-lead-zinc mine is based.

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The Ginkgo heavy mineral sands mine at Pooncarie,
NSW, is one of a number of significant mineral projects
in the state. (Source: Cristal Mining Australia)

The detail

The new map, which includes high quality images, updates and improves upon the last edition, produced in 2004, and highlights the distribution and critical significance of industrial minerals in NSW to investors, geologists and the broader community. 

It distinguishes the primary commodity for each site, the operation status (where production was recorded at some stage between July 2009 and July 2014) and key state-wide and regional statistical data, such as production trends for heavy mineral sands and limestone.

The state’s key infrastructure is shown, including ports, roads, railways, transmission lines, gas pipelines and existing processing plants relevant to industrial minerals. New map features include selected areas of prospectivity, such as buried and typically mineralised heavy mineral strand lines in the Murray Basin and opal fields, including Lightning Ridge, the source of NSW’s unique black opal. 

NSW also has the potential to produce commercial quantities of rare earths, vermiculite, and bauxite.

Other industrial mineral projects

The Mineral Systems group of the Geological Survey of NSW is currently undertaking a Murray Basin heavy mineral sands project.  The Murray Basin is an intracratonic sedimentary basin known for its high quality coarse-grained rutile, zircon and ilmenite. It covers 300,000km2 of NSW, Victoria and South Australia. 

The Loxton–Parilla Sands, which extend over much of this area, hosts major heavy mineral sand deposits and remains highly prospective for new discoveries. Existing data is being compiled for graphical display and data export. This work aims to improve understanding of the potential for, and genesis of, heavy mineral sand deposits throughout the basin.

*Cameron Perks is a geoscientist and David Forster is a senior geoscientist at the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Australia.

** Conversion made October 2015