An overview of the latest key information on the performance of the State's resources industry.
Mineral and petroleum review 2020-21
Western Australia and its resources sector continued to successfully navigate the global COVID-19 pandemic to deliver mineral and petroleum sales valued at a record $210 billion in 2020-21.
This eclipses the previous single highest calendar year or financial year sales value of $177 billion set in 2020.
The result was driven almost entirely by the iron ore industry, which recorded sales valued at a massive $155 billion. It was achieved on the back of all-time high iron ore prices which exceeded US$200 per tonne for the first time.
To put this into perspective, iron ore industry sales in 2020-21 were valued at more than all mineral and petroleum sales from Western Australia just two years ago.
This astounding result was countered by a downturn in the petroleum industry with the value of LNG (down $11 billion or 41 per cent on 2019-20), condensate (down $1 billion or 21 per cent), and crude oil (down $965 million or 36 per cent) all declining. This was due to a combination of lower sales quantities and overall weak prices.
The majority of Western Australia’s commodities sold through international markets and priced in US dollars and then converted back to Australian dollars. As such, a stronger Australian dollar, which was an average of 75 US cents up from 67 US cents the previous year, had a negative impact on the sector’s performance. The strengthened Australian dollar was due to high commodity prices, particularly iron ore, and a weak US dollar.
The mining of minerals increased its position as the dominant activity in the State’s resources sector with $186 billion in sales, accounting for 89 per cent of all sales.
Iron ore was by far the most valuable mined commodity in Western Australia and its overall contribution to the value of the State’s resources sector continued to grow. It accounted for 83 per cent of the value of all mineral sales and 74 per cent of all mineral and petroleum sales in 2020-21 (up from previous highs of 79 per cent and 67 per cent respectively in 2020).
The iron ore sector achieved record sales valued at $155 billion in 2020-21, up by almost 50 per cent on the previous financial year. With relatively stable sales quantities of 839 million tonnes (compared to 837 million tonnes in 2019-20), this result was principally due to all-time high iron ore prices, which exceeded US$200 per tonne for the first time. Prices were higher on the back of ongoing tight supply and stronger demand in China’s steel industry stemming from increased construction sector activity in the recovery effort from COVID-19.
Gold sales were valued at $16.6 billion, up by four per cent from 2019-20 but down from the record $17.3 billion in sales in 2020. During the year, nearly 6.7 million ounces of gold were sold, down from a recent high of 6.8 million ounces in 2019-20. The price of gold was at record levels in US dollar terms amid ongoing economic uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, weak global economic growth, as well as trade and geopolitical tensions. However, for local producers, price gains were partially offset by the stronger Australian dollar.
Softer prices from a regional market oversupply and related demand weakness meant that the value of alumina and bauxite sales declined to $5.6 billion in 2020-21. This was despite the quantity of alumina and bauxite sales increasing to a record 14.4 million tonnes and 1.8 million tonnes respectively.
The value of nickel sales was $3.5 billion – the industry’s highest sales value in seven years. This was largely the result of the price of nickel increasing to a level last reached eight years ago. Sales quantities also increased three per cent year-on-year from rising output from the Nickel West operations following start-up of new mines and improved operational stability, as well as the ramp-up of the Ravensthorpe project which restarted in the first half of 2020.
Base metals sales were up to $1.7 billion (up six per cent from $1.6 billion in 2019-20), the highest level since 2014. This was primarily due to a spike in copper prices during the year to record levels of more than A$10,000 per tonne due to supply constraints, improved demand from COVID-19 economic stimulus measures, and a weak US dollar. Higher prices offset a fall in sales quantities to a decade low as many of the State’s producers reported lower volumes and the Nifty operations were suspended in November 2019.
Market conditions in the lithium sector reached bottom at the end of 2020 amid excess spodumene concentrate supplies and issues further down the supply chain. The turning point came in the new year and with strong electric vehicle sales as well as concern over future supply. These factors saw average monthly prices grow 65 per cent from A$526 per tonne in December 2020 to $870 per tonne in June 2021. In a sign of improving market conditions, sales quantities were up for the first time in three years as projects including Mt Cattlin and Pilgangoora moved back towards capacity, offsetting the suspension of Altura Mining’s operations in October 2020. Despite the recovery in the industry, the State’s spodumene concentrate sales were valued at $938 million – more than 2020, but still less than 2019-20 and less than half of the single year sales record of $1.9 billion set in 2018.
The remaining major minerals sales included:
- Mineral sands sales of $824 million (up six per cent on 2019-20)
- Other mineral sales including rare earths and manganese of $657 million (up three per cent)
- Salt sales of $553 million (up 47 per cent)
- Coal sales of $306 million (down six per cent)
- Cobalt sales of $294 million (down less than one per cent)
- Silver sales of $153 million (up 40 per cent)
- Diamond sales of $112 million (down 60 per cent).
The petroleum sector, which comprises crude oil, condensate, liquefied natural gas (LNG), natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), dropped to a five-year low sales value of $23 billion in 2020-21, a decrease of 37 per cent from $37 billion in 2019-20.
With the decline in the value of petroleum sales and the rise in the value of mineral sales, the petroleum sector’s share of total mineral and petroleum sales dropped to 11 per cent in 2020-21, its lowest level since prior to the development of the North West Shelf project in the late 1980s.
LNG remained the most valuable petroleum product produced in Western Australia at $16 billion or 67 per cent of petroleum sales, followed by condensate at $4.3 billion (18 per cent) and crude oil at $1.7 billion (seven per cent).
The value of LNG and condensate sales (down 42 per cent and 21 per cent respectively) were affected by a combination of:
the aftermath of oil prices falling to their lowest level in 20 years on a combination of excess supply amid a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and subdued global demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic shutdowns; and
operational issues at Gorgon, Prelude remaining offline until January 2021, as well as a maintenance shutdowns at the North West Shelf and Wheatstone.
Oil sales values were similarly affected (down 36 per cent) by overall weaker oil prices and production being hampered by lower reliability at some floating production, storage, and offloading facilities (FPSOs), a prolonged period of nil production from the Van Gogh project fields after the Ningaloo Vision FPSO went in for planned maintenance and was caught in COVID-19 vessel restrictions, as well as cyclone activity.
Notably, the performance of the petroleum sector improved as the financial year went on with a recovery in prices to pre-COVID-19 levels and the resolution of issues at LNG production facilities.
For an overview of the overall performance of the resources sector against key indicators, please see the mineral and petroleum industry activity review 2020-21.
For more information on Statistics Digest
For more information on the Annual Report