1.2.1 Available coal and coal seam gas resources


Significant deposits of black coal were first identified in the geological Galilee Basin in the 1970s, although no commercial mines have yet been established due to the basin’s relative remoteness and absence of mine-enabling infrastructure. However, a widespread exploration boom since the mid-2000s has helped transform the understanding of the basin’s coal and coal seam gas (CSG) resources, and there are currently six high-value greenfield mining ventures slated for initial development prior to 2020. These large scale open-cut and underground mining operations propose to target the laterally extensive coal seams hosted in the Late Permian aged strata of the Betts Creek beds (and their stratigraphic equivalents the Colinlea Sandstone and Bandanna Formation in the central-eastern part of the Galilee Basin).

The Betts Creek beds (and equivalents) are a mixed sedimentary sequence predominantly comprising sandstone, conglomerate, shale and coal. The units occur across most of the Galilee Basin, although it is only near the eastern basin margin that the coal seams are close enough to surface to permit economic extraction. There are six main coal seams recognised in the formation (seams A through F), and in places such as the Koburra Trough these occur as well-defined seams of uniform thickness that dip regionally to the west at low angles (1 to 5°). Most of the basin’s Late Permian coals (originally deposited from 262 to 252 million years ago) are low rank (sub-bituminous) with low sulfur and relatively high ash content. Moisture levels are typically 7 to 9%. They are non-coking coals, suitable mainly for thermal uses such as power generation.

Coal also occurs in Early Permian strata in the Galilee Basin, particularly the Aramac Coal Measures. The Aramac Coal Measures are not as spatially extensive as the Late Permian coal‑bearing formations and are mainly restricted to the central and western parts of the basin, such as the Lovelle Depression and Aramac Trough. The Aramac Coal Measures typically comprise about 10% coal, with the remainder of the unit consisting of interbedded sandstone, siltstone and shale. Coals in the Aramac Coal Measures are high volatile bituminous coals that are typically more thermally mature than those in the Betts Creek beds. The Aramac Coal Measures are buried too deeply throughout the basin for them to be mined economically, although they are a secondary CSG target.

Within the Galilee subregion, large tonnages of low rank coal (ranging from lignite to sub‑bituminous) occur in Cretaceous strata of the Eromanga Basin. These coals are about 150 million years younger than those in the Late Permian formations, and are mainly concentrated in southern parts of the subregion, south of Blackall. There are several major deposits with over 1 billion tonnes of identified coal resources buried at relatively shallow depths, although the much higher moisture levels of these coals mean that they are less profitable as an export product.

Exploration for CSG resources in the Galilee Basin has mainly focused on the Betts Creek beds, although the deeper Aramac Coal Measures have also been intersected in many CSG exploration wells. Gas sourced from both of these coal-bearing units has similar properties, and is predominantly methane with gas content typically less than 5 m3/t (dry ash free, DAF). Most coals in the Galilee Basin have gas saturation levels of around 30% (undersaturated), although there is a considerable range (5 to 75%). Isotopic evidence suggests that most CSG in the Betts Creek beds and Aramac Coal Measures is of biogenic origin, and derived mainly from bacterial reduction of carbon dioxide.

The Galilee Basin is a large (about 250,000 km2) geological basin which underlies the Galilee subregion in central Queensland, and contains world-class resources of high volatile, low rank black coal. According to the 2014 Australian Energy Resource Assessment (AERA), the Galilee Basin contains total Identified Resources of 23,248 million tonnes (Mt), with recoverable economic demonstrated resources (EDR) of 6281 Mt (GA and BREE, 2014). These coal resources are hosted in Permian age sedimentary strata at relatively shallow depths along much of the eastern flank of the basin. Coal has been known to occur in the Galilee Basin for about the last 100 years, although there are currently no commercially operating coal mines or coal seam gas (CSG) production facilities in this region. The main factor that has so far discouraged the development of these significant resources is the relative remoteness and lack of existing infrastructure necessary for mining and transport to markets. As recently as the early 2000s there were only three coal resources identified in the Galilee Basin, these being the thermal coal deposits at Alpha, Kevin’s Corner and Pentland (Mutton, 2003).

Since the mid-2000s there has been a major upsurge in coal exploration activity, driven largely by a significant rise in global coal prices coupled with increased funding from international investors, mainly from China and India. This has led to a number of proposals for new high value mining projects, many of which are currently subject to the pre-development approvals process. These greenfield mining operations are being developed as large scale mines that are profitable because of the economies of scale that come from major open-cut and underground mining operations which employ an integrated approach to mine management, railway transport and port facilities.

The Galilee Basin is also recognised as an emerging CSG province, although the scale and pace of CSG exploration and development is significantly behind that of the basin’s coal resources. Although the Galilee Basin has a history of CSG exploration dating back to the early 1990s (EEA, 1992), commercial production has yet to be achieved, and recent exploration results have not proven as encouraging as in the nearby Bowen and Surat basins. Nonetheless, several CSG companies remain active in the region, and two pilot test operations in different parts of the central basin have indicated that future full-scale development may occur, although possibly not for at least ten to fifteen years.

If all of the planned Galilee Basin mining development goes ahead, Australia’s thermal coal exports could increase by almost 240 million tonnes (Mt) per year. The development of associated transport (rail) and port infrastructure may also potentially underpin other Galilee Basin coal projects long into the future.

Significant black coal mines currently slated for development in the Galilee Basin include:

  • Alpha (joint venture between GVK Coal Developers Pty Ltd and Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd (Hancock Prospecting), known as GVK Hancock) – mining 30 million tonnes (Mt)/year at $10 billion development cost including infrastructure, rail and port facilities
  • (GVK Coal Developers Pty Ltd (GVK Coal Developers)) – 30 Mt/year at $4.2 billion development cost including infrastructure
  • China First (Waratah Coal Pty Ltd (Waratah Coal)) – 40 Mt/year at $6.5 billion development cost including infrastructure
  • Carmichael (Adani Mining Pty Ltd (Adani Mining)) – 60 Mt/year at $16 billion development cost including infrastructure and rail
  • South Galilee (joint venture between AMCI (Alpha) Pty Ltd and Alpha Coal Pty Ltd (Alpha Coal)) – 17 Mt/year at $4.2 billion development cost
  • China Stone (Macmines Austasia Pty Ltd (Macmines Austasia)) – 60 Mt/year at $6 billion development cost.

Further information about each of these developments is in Section 1.2.3 of this report.

Last updated:
5 January 2018
Thumbnail of the Galilee subregion

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