QUEENSLAND is renowned for its coal mining industry, which generates billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs for Australians.

Now the state’s coal mining industry is about to enter a new era of growth, after the Queensland government opened up 7000sq km of land in its Bowen and Surat coal basins to fresh exploration activity for coal and gas.

Mining companies have been invited to stake their claim in the exploration territory to sow the seeds for the next generation of resources projects.

Queensland Member of Parliament for the Mackay constituency, Julieanne Gilbert, said the exploration program could result in significant job opportunities.

“Two areas in the highly prospective Bowen Basin have been earmarked for metallurgical coal – this Basin is already the world’s largest exporter of seaborne metallurgical coal in the world,” she said.

One of the exploration areas is 40km north-west of Moranbah, comprising 11 blocks covering 35sq km and is prospective for metallurgical coal.


A second area, covering 73sq km in 23 blocks and 60 km north-east of Moranbah, is prospective for thermal and coking coal.

Tenders seeking expressions of interest for the 2020 coal exploration program will open this month and close by May.

Land will be awarded to successful bidders by August this year.

Resources powerhouse

In the two-year period to September 2019, exploration investment in Queensland had risen 27pc, and the government has released a record 64,000sq km for exploration activity in its past three programs.

Queensland Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Minister Anthony Lynham said exploration investment was critical for Queensland to remain a resources powerhouse and to meet the world’s demand for resources.

The Queensland Resources Council, which represents coal miners and mining interests in the state, welcomed the land release for exploration.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the organisation supported the move.

“A proactive exploration program secures tomorrow’s resource industry while supporting jobs, many of which will be in regional Queensland,” he said.

A coal handling and processing plant (CHPP) in operation at TerraCom’s Blair Athol mine

Bowen Basin

Most of the state’s existing mining for coal is focussed on Queensland’s giant Bowen Basin, a 650km long coalfield that covers an area of up to 75,000sq km.

Stretching from Collinsville at its northern tip down to Moura at its southern end, the Bowen Basin coalfield is a hive of activity with around 50 coal mines.

Coal mining started around Collinsville in the 1920s and was joined by mines at Baralaba and Moura in the 1950s, before really taking off in the 1960s with a series of mining towns in Moranbah, Dysart, Middlemount and Blackwater.

Several household name companies mine coal in the Bowen Basin, including Adaro Energy and EMR Capital, Anglo American, Baralaba Coal, Batchfire Callide, BHP in partnership with Mitsubishi and Mitsui, Coronado Global Resources, Glencore, Idemitsu Australia Resources, Jellinbah Group, Peabody Energy, QCoal Group, Sojitz Coal Mining and Yancoal Australia.

They are soon to be joined by India-headquartered company Adani Australia, currently building a mine in the Galilee coalfield, one step over from the Bowen Basin on its western side, and virtually untouched in terms of coal mining.

Adani Australia has previously stated its first coal exports from its Carmichael mine for thermal coal should emerge in 2021.

Most of the coal mined in the Bowen Basin is coking coal, also known as metallurgical coal, which along with another major Australian export – iron ore – is used to produce steel.

In the past decade, China has emerged as a major consumer of Australian coking coal from the Bowen Basin, joining other industrialised Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and India.

Thermal coal is also exported from some Bowen Basin mines such as Glencore’s Rolleston, Idemitsu’s Ensham and TerraCom’s Blair Athol, formerly operated by Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto completed its exit from Australian coal in 2018 with the sale of its Kestrel mine to Indonesia’s Adaro Energy and private equity manager EMR Capital.

Cook Colliery near Blackwater was put into care and maintenance in December after its owner ASX-listed Bounty Mining went into administration, partly attributing the move to lower international coal prices.

Further south in south-east Queensland, ASX-listed New Hope Group and Yancoal Australia operate some thermal coal mines in Queensland’s Surat Basin coalfield that export shipments through Brisbane port.

Rail system

Coal exports in the Bowen coalfield travel on a 2670 km network of railway lines that criss-cross eastern Queensland from mine sites to four major coal ports in the State.

The dedicated rail system for coal exports is called the Central Queensland Coal Network and is owned and operated by Australian company Aurizon.

The system is sub-divided into four rail systems which are essentially supply chains that connect mines in certain parts of the Bowen Basin to Queensland’s ports.

The largest of these is the Goonyella system that supports about 20 mines and runs west from Blair Athol to the port of Hay Point and its two coal terminals, BHP’s Hay Point dedicated facility and the multi-user Dalrymple Bay terminal.

The Goonyella line also has a northern spur running to North Goonyella, and a southern spur starting at Gregory.

Newlands is another rail system that serves the northern Bowen Basin from North Goonyella up to the northern port of Abbot Point.

Blackwater is the system for around 20 mines in the central Bowen Basin coalfield and runs from Emerald to Gladstone port and its two coal terminals.

The Blackwater system is being extended west into the Galilee Basin to its town of Alpha, the hub of the area’s new mining industry.

Hancock Coal has its Alpha thermal coal project in the region, and Waratah Coal, a 100pc owned subsidiary of Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy company, has its North Alpha project there.

Moura is the smallest system in the CQCN and starts at the Baralaba mine, taking in the Callide coalfield, and terminating in Gladstone.

Brisbane port in the south of the state is served by the West Moreton rail network that carries coal from Queensland’s southern Surat coalfield to the port’s coal terminal.

Queensland’s coal exports – both metallurgical and thermal – had a total value of $35.9b in the 2019 calendar year, according to the Queensland Treasury.