BHP Billiton to Double Olympic Dam Mine in Economic Jobs Boom for SA

BHP Billiton to Double Olympic Dam Mine in Economic Jobs Boom for SA

THE Olympic Dam mine will be expanded to produce more than twice as much as it does now by the middle of next decade, BHP Billiton has flagged.

The expansion will all come from underground mining rather than a revision of the open-pit plan, which was shelved in 2012.

Nonetheless, the expansion will be huge.

“We do want to get this right but no matter what, it’s going to be a lot of money,” BHP’s chief financial officer Peter Beaven said.

In a first step, BHP has decided to spend more than $US200 million to increase production by about a third by June 2018.

This is line with BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie saying last week the company wanted Olympic Dam to be running at the optimum rate its existing processing plant was built for, or 235,000 tonnes of copper a year.

BHP said after it reached that milestone it wanted to increase production to 450,000 tonnes of copper by 2024 when it expects the world market to be hungry for more of the metal which is essential for urban living and use of electricity.The mine now employs about 3500 people and produced 184,000 tonnes of copper last financial year.

BHP said it was too early to estimate costs of lifting capacity or predict how many jobs would be created.

However, it is expected they would be considerable.

Mr Beaven said the expansion plan depended on successful outcomes of trials now under way using so-called heap leach processing. The method involves dribbling solvent through piles of crushed ore to extract uranium and most of the copper.

It would make Olympic Dam one of the most cost-competitive copper mines in the world when the byproducts of uranium, gold and silver were added to the equation.

He stressed the expansion would require board approval and Olympic Dam would have to compete internally for capital.

“Importantly this is a very big (deposit) of 9 billion tonnes,” he said.

“Nothing that we’re going to here is going to inhibit the option to pursue eventually, at some day, an open pit development if that makes sense,” he said.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said the government welcomed BHP Billiton’s “commitment to unlocking the value of this great ore body and the potential jobs and economic activity it can bring to the state”.

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CHRISTOPHER RUSSELL BUSINESS EDITOR THE ADVERTISER NOVEMBER 25, 2014 11:27AM

 

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