In figures: How big is Australia's iron ore industry?


But just how big is the Australian iron ore industry? Let's have a look at it, in numbers.

It used to be said that Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’. Wool was our primary export and it helped make us a prosperous nation. These days, you could easily make the case for saying Australia is built on iron ore.

Iron is one of the planet’s most abundant rock-forming elements. Used to make steel, it makes up about five per cent of the Earth’s crust. But mineable deposits aren’t found just anywhere — and Western Australia has one of the most exploitable deposits in the world.

But just how big is the Australian iron ore industry? 

The short answer is it’s big.

Let’s have a look at it, in numbers.

In 2014, WA was the largest iron ore producer in the world. In 2014-15, WA shipped 719 million tonnes of iron ore. That sounds like a lot, until you consider there are 54 billion tonnes still in the ground — so it will be a good long while before it runs out.

That’s the largest exploitable iron ore resource in the world. In fact, it’s almost a third (29 per cent) of the economically extractable iron ore resource in the world. The next biggest deposit, at 16 per cent, belongs to Brazil.

Iron ore industry infrastructure

It’s a big resource and a big industry, which brings with it equally large infrastructure requirements. Between Rio, BHP, FMG and Roy Hill there are more than 3000 kilometres of train tracks snaking around the Pilbara region of WA. Those trains can be more than two kilometres long, use up to three locomotives and comprise more than 250 wagons. Each one can carry more than 25,000 tonnes of ore.

Iron ore from the Pilbara is initially hauled out of open mines in trucks that can carry more than 300 tonnes. The ore is shipped from specially built ports.

Iron ore a big employer

According to the website, Iron Ore: Facts from the Minerals Council of Australia, iron ore mining in Australia directly employs 60,500 in a range of highly skilled jobs.

‘From engineers and geologists and infrastructure experts to operators, environmental experts, tradespeople and accountants’, the site says. ‘Plus many thousands more people are employed in local businesses supplying our mines and iron ore transport operations’.

A contributor to the economy

Australian Federal Government figures show iron ore earned Australia $75 billion in exports in 2014. It has contributed more than $70 billion in royalties and company tax to the Australian Government since 2007/2008. As an industry it also paid $5.22 billion in state royalties for iron ore to the WA Government in 2014.

More reading

For more information about Australia’s iron ore industry, check out the Australian Government’s Geoscience Australia website