Mining manganese in Australia can be challenging, but a few companies operating in the country are thriving. Here’s a brief overview.
Australia is the third-biggest manganese producer after China and South Africa, with yearly production of around 2.5 million MT. Its exports of the metal are valued at about $1 billion annually, and it has the fourth-largest reserves of manganese in the world.
That said, the history of manganese in Australia is fairly short. The metal was first discovered in the country in 1803, but was not mined until 1966. Currently, all economic demonstrated resources for manganese in the country are located in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Groote Eylandt, a world-class manganese deposit in the Northern Territory, is the center of most manganese-mining activity in the country.
Over the past two years, a drop in the manganese price has pushed two other main manganese-producing mines in Australia into care-and-maintenance mode. Operations were suspended at OM Holdings’ (ASX:OMH) Bootu Creek mine from December 2015 to February 2017, and Consolidated Minerals’ Woodie Woodie mine followed suit in January 2016. Other companies have also faced challenges.
But while obstacles certainly exist in terms of manganese mining in Australia, at least a few companies have managed to thrive. Below is a look at four of them — please let us know in the comments if there’s one you think we’ve missed!
South32 was demerged from BHP (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT) in 2015, and owns 60 percent of Groote Eylandt Mining Company (GEMCO). GEMCO is currently one of the largest and lowest-cost manganese ore producers in the world, and operates the Groote Eylandt mine.
As mentioned, Groote Eylandt is located in the Northern Territory. It is an open-cut strip-mining operation, and workers at the site take care of crushing, screening, washing and dense media separation. The mine produces lump and fines products, and has a capacity of 4.8 million tonnes per year (on a 100-percent basis). It benefits from being close to Asian export markets.
Anglo American (LSE:AAL)
Major miner Anglo American holds the remaining 40-percent stake in GEMCO and thus has an interest in the Groote Eylandt mine. It also has a 40-percent interest in Tasmanian Electro Metallurgical Company, which operates Australia’s only manganese ore processing plant.
Anglo American’s other manganese projects are in South Africa and South America; its interest in them comes through a 40-percent stake in Samancor. The company has other metals operations in many parts of the world, including Africa, Brazil, Chile, North and South America, Australia, China, India and Japan.
Montezuma Mining (ASX:MZM)
Montezuma Mining holds a number of exploration and mining tenements in Western Australia. Its Butcherbird project is Australia’s largest onshore manganese resource, at almost 170 million tonnes of manganiferous ore; it has large tonnages of near-surface manganese oxide ore in seven deposits.
Mesa Minerals (ASX:MAS)
Mesa Minerals is focused on the development of its jointly held Ant Hill and Sunday Hill manganese ore tenements in the Pilbara district of Western Australia. Mesa’s Ant Hill mining lease contains a large resource of medium-grade, high-iron manganese that prior to 1968 yielded approximately 500,000 tonnes of manganese metallurgical-grade lump ore at an average manganese content of 48.3 percent.
Mesa’s Sunday Hill mining lease, which is located close to Ant Hill, is a remnant mesa formation that rises 20 to 30 meters above the surrounding plain and has moderate to gentle slopes. As is the case at Ant Hill, reserve category tonnage has yet to be calculated for the Sunday Hill lease to JORC standards.
OM Holdings (ASX:OMH)
OM Holdings is an independent, internationally diversified minerals group with its primary focus on expanding its fully integrated manganese business. Its international operations currently comprise a Singapore based metals marketing business supported by a manganese mine in Australia and a ferro alloy processing facility in China.
The company’s 100 percent owned Bootu Creek Manganese project in the Northern Territory has been producing since 2006. Annual production capacity is 1,000,000 tonnes per annum which is in excess of its plant design capacity per annum with a current 13 year mine life based on existing Mineral Resources.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
This article is updated periodically. Please scroll to the top for the most recent information.
Manganese in Australia
By the Investing News Network, 2014
Australia is the second-biggest manganese producer after China, with yearly production of around 5 million tonnes of beneficiated manganese. Its exports of the metal are valued at about $1 billion annually, according to Geoscience Australia, and the US Geological Survey notes that it has the fourth-largest reserves of manganese in the world.
That said, Australia has a fairly short history of manganese mining. The metal was first discovered in the country in 1803, but it was not mined until 1966. Currently, Groote Eylandt, a world-class manganese deposit located in the Northern Territory, is the center of most manganese mining activity in Australia.
Challenges in Australian manganese mining
Last year, the Northern Territory’s government banned seabed mining around Groote Eylandt, in part due to pressure from the local indigenous community, as per ABC. The ban stopped an extensive project that had been proposed by Northern Manganese (ASX:GOT). While Chief Minister Adam Giles spoke of possible compensation, Doug Daws, chairman of Northern Manganese, was not interested.
“We don’t want compensation, we want to get on with the job,” Daws told the news outlet. “But if we’ve got to go down the path of compensation, it’s difficult to comprehend just how much that would end up costing both our company and the Northern Territory government.”
Such tension between manganese miners and local indigenous groups is not uncommon in Australia. A similar incident occurred in late 2013, when OM Manganese, a subsidiary of OM Holdings (ASX:OMH), was found guilty of desecrating an Aboriginal sacred site, The Australian states. The company was found to have caused a “horizontal arm” of rock to break, reducing its sacredness and spiritual connection to the land’s traditional owners and inhabitants.
“The company never intended to harm, damage or disrespect the sacred site,” OM Holdings CEO Peter Toth told The Australian. “We sincerely regret the damage and the hurt caused and I unreservedly apologize to the site’s custodians and traditional owners.”
Despite that apology, OM Manganese was found to have favored business and profit over its obligation to protect the sacred site where it was operating. The company was ultimately fined $150,000.
Australia’s manganese miners
While challenges certainly exist in terms of manganese mining and exploration in Australia, many companies have managed to thrive. Here’s a look at three of them:
BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT)
BHP Billiton, a huge player in Australian mining, as well as worldwide, operates a manganese mine at Groote Eylandt. It uses open-cut strip mining methods at the site, which produces more than 15 percent of the world’s high-grade manganese ore.
The company also controls Australia’s only manganese ferroalloy plant; it produces ferromanganese, silicomanganese and sinter.
Anglo American (LSE:AAL)
Anglo American, another major mining company, operates a manganese mine in Groote Eylandt as well. It also owns the Tasmanian Electro Metallurgical Company at Bell Bay, where the ferroalloy plant mentioned above is located.
Anglo American’s other manganese projects are in South Africa and South America. The company operates in Africa, Brazil, Chile, North and South America, Australia, China, India, Japan and other countries in Asia and Europe.
Shaw River Manganese (ASX:SRR)
Shaw River Manganese is a junior exploration and development company with projects in Ghana and Namibia as well as Australia. Its Dingo Creek project, south of Newman in Western Australia, is prospective for manganese and iron and is comprised of two license applications on the western side of the Ullawarra mineral deposit. .
Other producers have had great success at Ullawarra, and Shaw River expects to fare just as well. Preliminary exploration indicates manganese mineralization as well as iron occurring at 58.7 percent.
Manganese in South America