Copper on rise as BHP stakes SA mines claim

Global mining giant BHP has lifted its copper production by 88 per cent at Olympic Dam as it landed two crucial wins to build its South Australian footprint – approval to expand Oak Dam and a crucial vote to swallow OZ Minerals’s local interests for $9.6 billion.

Apr 21, 2023, updated Apr 21, 2023
Olympic Dam in South Australia's north. Photo: BHP

Olympic Dam in South Australia's north. Photo: BHP

The company’s latest quarterly report released today trumpeted record gold and silver production in SA, while its coal interests in Queensland and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales was slowed by the impacts of high rainfall.

Chief executive officer Mike Henry said the company is poised to pursue new growth opportunities in copper and nickel markets around the world and its ever-growing SA assets add significant power to the engine room.

The SA Government recently signed off on environmental approvals allowing BHP to expand its exploration drilling at Oak Dam 65km south east of the Olympic Dam mine, leading to the company flagging it will increase its six drill rigs in the region to 10 by October.

Drilling activity is expected to continue expanding at Oak Dam after the government told BHP it could operate up to 14 drill rigs in the area – more than double the current approval – and the company can also build an accommodation camp on site for up to 150 people.

Henry also highlighted the recent win for BHP in taking over SA mining company OZ Minerals after shareholders overwhelmingly voted in favour of the scheme, the move rubberstamped by the Federal Court on Monday.

When the scheme of arrangement is now expected to be implemented on May 2 it will deliver highly prized SA mining assets Prominent Hill and Carrapateena in the state’s Far North to the BHP portfolio.

“Last week, OZ Minerals shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of BHP’s offer,” Henry said.

“We are now focused on the safe integration of the two businesses and we look forward to building an internationally competitive copper business in South Australia and incorporating West Musgrave (another OZ Minerals asset) into our nickel options in Western Australia.

“We are pursuing growth options in copper and nickel globally – we aim to have up to 10 drill rigs on the ground at Oak Dam in South Australia in the next few months and have seen promising results from a potential new copper prospect in Arizona (in the United States).”

Olympic Dam – sited 560 kilometres north of Adelaide – was again a top performer driving the overall 12 per cent increase across the company’s copper production.

The mine recorded an 88 per cent increase in copper production compared to the former period with BHP saying this was driven by a smelter maintenance campaign across the December 2021 and March 2022 quarters.

Its March 2023 quarter also marked record gold production at Olympic Dam.

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Meanwhile, the company’s Western Australian iron ore business also scored record production “while metallurgical coal volumes were down slightly due to significant wet weather”, Henry reported.

He said commodity demand across the globe was looking positive.

“Recent engagements with customers in China and India have reaffirmed our positive outlook for commodity demand, with China’s economic rebound and solid momentum in India’s steelmaking growth helping to offset the impact of slowing growth in the US, Japan and Europe.”

Henry also acknowledged the death of a staff member, Jody Byrne, in a rail incident at Port Hedland in Western Australia during February saying an investigation is underway and results would be shared.

Earlier this month, Premier Peter Malinauskas described the approvals given to the Oak Dam mine as an opportunity to “create jobs and investment in our state”.

“While still in its early stages, BHP’s Oak Dam project presents a significant opportunity for the expansion of copper production in South Australia,” he said.

“The approval brings BHP a step closer to defining the extent of this world-class discovery with an eye to developing another copper deposit in the highly prospective Gawler Craton.”

BHP has its global headquarters in Melbourne and offices in the United Kingdom, United States, Chile, China and other countries around the world.

A company spokesperson said the company intended to “retain the vast majority” of OZ Minerals’ about 660 staff in South Australia as it brings together “the best from both companies as we look to grow the combined South Australian copper business over time”.

South Australia’s largest company Santos also posted its results this week, managing director Kevin Gallagher reporting free cash flow of around US$720 million.

The company reported sales revenue of US$1.6 billion and lower than the previous quarter in production of 22.2 mmboe “due to reduced domestic gas volumes in Western Australia supported by extended production from the Bayu-Undan field”.

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