Pilbara Industry

The north west corner of Australia has some unique and dramatic natural landscape – but that is not all.   I agree that is more pleasing and serene to gaze over a blue pool fringed with green reeds and ferns in a deep red gorge than it is to look out over a massive iron ore mine with it’s hustle of giant trucks, processing plants and trains.   However it would be wrong not to mention the latter and while some hold that it is ugly,  I for one can’t help but be impressed by most of it.  S

Iron ore mining is probably the most well know industry in this region and depending on one’s information source, it accounts for 3 to 4% of Australia’s GDP.   Rio Tinto is the major iron ore company in the area, however there are also many other large players such as BHP and Fortesque Metals.

iron ore mine map
Map of some of the iron ore mines around Tom Price in the Tom Price visitor centre.  Rio, BHP and FMG are shown in orange, green and blue respectively.   Several other players are also present and there are several other mining areas to the north and west of this map.
mt tom price mine
View of some of Rio Tinto’s Tom Price mining operations from the summit of Mt Nameless.
iron ore trucks at mesa mine
Famous of the iron ore mines (and other open cut mining operations), are the large trucks that carry ore from the extraction point to the next phase of processing,   While it’s hard not to think of a toy truck when looking at their shape, they are actually over 9m wide, 15m long and can carry over 350 tonnes.
iron ore truck
While many of Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore mines now operate self driving trucks to save on labour costs, we noticed that this particular mine (Mesa A) still had drivers in the cabs.
iron ore road trains
From the mines, the processed ore need to transported to shipping ports on the coast.   Some mines use road trains to transport ore to a rail head
iron ore train
However many mines have private rail lines leading directly to the port 
bhp hillside base station
Here a road train carrying ore from Atlas Iron’s Mount Webber Mine is crossing BHPs private iron ore rail line.    The tower in the background is of particular interest to me as it supports 4G base station equipment from Nokia (my employer) that BHP uses in a private LTE network to support data communications along the rail line.
bts close up
Here the Nokia radio modules can be seen beneath the large flat panel antennas.  While I could identify the radio units,  I could not identify what bird had built the nest. 
rio tinto rail map
We visited Dampier, which is Rio Tinto’s primary port location where it runs 2 ship loading facilities.  Leading to Dampier and the adjacent Cape Lambert, Rio has over 1700km of private rail which is shown on this map at a lookout in Dampier.  
iron ore rail trucks
Here two iron ore trains are lined up for offloading at Port Dampier.   These trains have over 200 trucks and are several kilometers long .     These two have already commenced unloading at the port which is nearly 2km from where this photo was taken
ship loading
The port isn’t open to the public, but from our caravan park we got a serene view of iron ore pouring off a conveyor into a ship at dusk.

While definitely second to Iron ore, offshore natural gas is also a very large economic contributor of the region with several processing plants located along the coast.   Woodside Petroleum and Chevron being the lead operators.

karratha gas plant
The Karratha Gas Plant near Dampier processes gas and some oil from wells about 150km offshore producing liquified natural gas (LNG) for export by ship; domestic gas which is sent by pipeline to Perth and surrounds; LPG and some heavier hydrocarbon condensate.  The latter being sold to petroleum refineries overseas or on the east coast or Australia.
woodside gas art
A monument to injured workers at the Karratha Gas Plant visitor centre.

Visitor centre photos of two of the offshore platforms (Rankin A and B) and an aerial shot of the gas plant.  The platforms rest on the seabed about 130m below the water level where shafts over 3km deep reach down to the gas and oil.

nws gas
A view of the Karratha Gas Plant from Angel Island in the Dampier Archipelago.  
gas and iron ore ships
A loaded LNG ship and iron ore ship make their way out from Dampier.

Finally salt mining also presents a very visible impact in the area, albeit probably some orders of magnitude smaller from an economic point of view.  Interestingly, the salt mines appear to be mostly owned by Rio Tinto.

salt mine facts

dampier salt mine
One of the salt evaporation ponds seen from a viewing platform. 

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