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Category Archives: copper

Kevin Naughton
 
May 1, 2012

EVERYTHING that can be done, has been done, says the head of the state government’s Olympic Dam Taskforce as it waits for BHP Billiton to give the green light to the mine’s proposed expansion.

“Everything is lined up nicely for this decision,” Resources and Energy Department deputy CEO Paul Heithersay said yesterday.

A formal commitment to proceed from the BHP board would trigger billions of dollars in associated infrastructure projects. A board decision is expected mid-year.

Mr Heithersay addressed hundreds of miners, explorers and contractors gathered at the Hilton Hotel for the “2012 Paydirt” SA Resources and Energy Investment Conference.

“Everything the government can do is done; we have completed the EIS and Indenture processes,” he told delegates.

Heithersay said BHP Billiton was already spending “around $20 million a week on pre-commitment projects”, such as expansion of the road from Port Augusta, and engineering design work and earthworks.

Other projects included:

  • 270km of electricity transmission line;
  • 400km of gas pipeline and a gas-fired power station;
  • 105km of railway to be built from Pimba to Olympic Dam;
  • a sea landing facility south of Port Augusta for the unloading of heavy machinery;
  • an airport, complete with solar power and a 737 jet capability;
  • a 10,000 person camp as well as expansion of the Roxby Downs township; and
  • upgrades to Adelaide and Darwin harbours.

Earlier in the conference, Mineral Resources Minister Tom Koutsantonis repeated his “elephant” analogy, used in a recent presentation overseas.

“South Australia is poised to take its place among the titans of mining – not just in Australia but in the world,” Koutsantonis told delegates.

“In Olympic Dam we have tracked down an elephant, we are still in the hunt for the rest of the herd.

“These are exciting times, but they are also challenging times for our State.

“We need to manage our transition into a global mining giant in a way that benefits all South Australians.”

The minister also announced the successful applicants for exploration subsidies under the Plan for Accelerating Exploration, a subsidy program that dates back to the SA Exploration initiative (SAEI) in the early 1990s.

“Twenty-six mineral and petroleum exploration companies spread across South Australia will share about $1.7 million funding from the State Government,” he said.

Under its newer name PACE, it is to be expanded into a series of other collaborations including energy and water, subject to government funding approval.

The importance of Olympic Dam to the economy had earlier been underlined by Oz Mineral’s managing director Terry Burgess when he told delegates a recent set of job ads for work at nearby Prominent Hill had attracted 3000 applicants.

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Chinese lift offer and land OZ deal

Barry Fitzgerald
June 12, 2009

A SWEETENED offer of $US1.38 billion ($A1.69 billion) for the bulk of OZ Mineral’s assets has won the day for China’s state-owned Minmetals.

Battle-weary OZ shareholders roundly endorsed the deal at a meeting in Melbourne (92 per cent approval) but not before hurling abuse at the OZ board for what they saw as its role in making the former high-flying miner a major casualty of the global financial crisis.

A big protest vote on the re-election of long-standing director Michael Eager was also recorded (42 per cent against) and the adoption of OZ’s remuneration report was defeated (62 per cent against).

All of that reflected what OZ chairman Barry Cusack said had been an “extremely stressful time” for OZ since the financial crisis hit in mid-September, prompting OZ’s banking syndicate to call in $1.1 billion in debt.

Minmetals project director Mark Liu said after the meeting that the group’s decision to increase the offer demonstrated “goodwill, not only to OZ shareholders but to the Australian public as well”. It comes as the uproar in China continues over Rio Tinto’s spurning of a refinancing deal with state-owned Chinalco.

Minmetals’ original deal was struck in February. Like the Rio Tinto deal before it, it was essentially a refinancing package for the debt-heavy OZ. But it had become unpalatable because of the strong improvement in commodity prices and equity values since.

Last Friday, OZ received two refinancing alternatives, one from RFC and Royal Bank of Canada and one from Macquarie. Both were rejected ahead of yesterday’s shareholder meeting because they lacked, among other things, the certainty OZ was looking for as its June 30 debt repayment deadline loomed.

It was revealed yesterday that Minmetals had been in talks with OZ for about three weeks on increasing its offer to take account of the improved market conditions. The improved deal was agreed to at 8pm on Wednesday night and announced by Minmetals at 10pm, leaving OZ to tell shareholders of the improved offer at the meeting.

OZ said that unlike the competing proposals (Macquarie pulled its bid at 6pm on Wednesday), the new deal with Minmetals was a complete solution to its debt woes.

The only condition was that shareholders approve the deal at yesterday’s meeting.

OZ emerges from the deal sporting close to $800 million in cash and with its portfolio of interests reduced to some exploration assets and the Prominent Hill copper/gold mine in South Australia.

Mr Cusack said OZ would be cautious in how it spent its cash. “Having just come out of a life-threatening experience, we want to make sure that we don’t fall back into one,” he told shareholders.

http://business.theage.com.au/business/chinese-lift-offer-and-land-oz-deal-20090611-c4zi.html

ELIZABETH KNIGHT
June 11, 2009 – 11:57AM
The Chinese cannot be accused of being slow to learn their lessons.

Minmetals would have watched very closely the unfolding disaster that fellow Chinese-owned Chinalco suffered last week at the hands of the board of Rio Tinto.

Chinalco had a once in a lifetime opportunity to get its hands on some unparalleled resource assets in Australia.

It was in the box seat to double its stake in Rio Tinto and take direct stakes in highly sought after assets but it blew it. It got greedy.

Had it delivered a drop dead price on day one the outcome could have been very different.

Minmetals last night and at the 11th hour increased its offer for the OZ Minerals assets it is able to buy, by 15 per cent to $US1.386 billion ($1.75 billion).

The sale of these assets has been one of the most contested deals in recent corporate history.

Macquarie Bank was the primary rival to Minmetals – the Australian bank’s plan involved a recapitalisation for which it would receive some hefty underwriting fees.

But in the end Macquarie’s deal was too risky – given that it would need to provide bridging finance until an issue had been undertaken.

Only a very brave – or foolhardy – organisation would extend finance to an overgeared company like Oz Minerals whose existing bankers are already holding a gun to its head.

Going into this morning’s OZ Mineral shareholder meeting to approve the Minmetals the board made it clear that the banks had cocked the trigger and were ready to squeeze in the event that investors voted against the sale of assets to Minmetals.

It could be argued that on this basis – and given the proxies received indicated that it would be approved – that Minmetals didn’t need to raise the offer.

But there is nothing like certainty – even if it comes at a price.

Lobbing a better offer – and one that sits inside the independent experts range of values – is probably cheap insurance.

eknight@smh.com.au

HENDRIK GOUT
1/05/2009 4:33:00 PM

BHP has today revealed the environmental effects of its giant Olympic Dam project. Hendrik Gout wrote this article ahead of the media lock-up at which the 4000-page document was released.

Incomparable and unimaginable are not synonymous, but Olympic Dam is both. It will be the world’s biggest hole-in-the-ground, the largest copper and uranium quarry on the planet, the highest artificial mountain range on Earth and the richest mine since King Solomon.

All this just a few hours drive from Adelaide. South Australia is about to become the Colossus of Copper, the Midas of Gold. There’s just one niggling problem: the environment.

At three o’clock on Friday afternoon, BHP Billiton flicked a switch and the World Wide Web will instantly host the most massive environmental impact statement Australia has ever seen. Three-years in the making, more than 4000 pages long (110 pages to list just the guidelines), and according to Mines Minister Paul Holloway “the largest document ever prepared in this state”.

That EIS will lay out what BHP reckons are the environmental effects of expanding its Olympic Dam copper, uranium and gold mine near Roxby Downs, in the state’s far north.

By some estimates the resource is worth a trillion dollars and able to produce some 25,000 tonnes of uranium, half a million ounces of gold and one million tonnes of copper a year.

The company will ultimately dig a hole 7.5 kilometres long, five kilometres wide and more than a kilometre deep.

Stacked up, the 44 billion tonnes or so of overburden would effectively create a new mountain range. Depending on its shape, it might be 20 kilometres wide in each direction and almost as high as Mt Lofty’s 720 metres.

If so, the new artificial mountain might create its own micro-climate.

The EIS will have to address hundreds of other issues as well. Journalists will have little time to do more than scan the document when it becomes available at noon – they’ll have to read over 1000 pages an hour during the media lock-up – before their television deadlines tonight.

BHP has said it will not comment on the EIS after the weekend even though reporters can’t possibly read all the documents in the time available.

The report was initially going to be available for public comment for just 40 working days, which Mr Holloway said was more than enough time. Public pressure, led by Greens MP Mark Parnell and Liberal MLC Christine Schaefer, forced the Government to extend that to 14 weeks.

“Even with a 14 week public comment period, the community will still struggle to read and respond to the largest document ever printed in this state,” Mr Parnell said.

So what will the long-awaited report say? It looks at expanding the mine to 750,000 tonnes of copper product a year, three-quarters of its possible ultimate size.

WATER POLLUTION AND THE GULF

Firstly, the EIS will have to address the mine’s water requirements. The existing Olympic Dam mine, a comparatively tiny underground operation, already uses 35 million litres of water a day. It drags this from the Great Artesian Basin: prehistoric underground water which fell as rain on the western side of the Great Dividing Range up to a million years ago. It has since percolated underground, flowing a mere one to three metres a year.

The company pays the state nothing to access this public resource under a special 1982 Act of Parliament which over-rides every other piece of legislation (including safeguards in mining Acts, development Acts and environment protection Acts) passed by Parliament before or even since.

The company is actually licensed to take up to 42 million litres of water a day from the Great Artesian Basin, but even this will not be enough to quench the new mine’s thirst.

Today’s EIS will canvass building a giant desalination plant on the coast of the fragile Upper Spencer Gulf. That plant will produce about 200 million litres a day, 80 of which might be bought by the State Government to supply towns around the Eyre Peninsula. The State Government has committed $125 million and the Commonwealth $120.

This means nearly a quarter of a million dollars of state and federal funds are going into the desalination plant, so both governments have serious EIS issues and responsibilities to address. It means federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett may have the power of veto over the desal plant.

The Gulf fishing industry and environmentalists will closely examine the document to see what it makes of the tens of thousands of litres of super-saline water the plant will release.

“This is the worst possible place to build an internationally-sized desalination plant,” Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner David Noonan said this week. “The Gulf is shallow, low-flushing. It’s the breeding ground of the giant cuttlefish which is extremely sensitive to changes in salinity. The plant should be built on the ocean, not the gulf.”

Adelaide University marine biologist associate professor Bronwyn Gilanders says the sea around Whyalla is actually the world’s largest cuttlefish breeding zone, and that the plant could wipe them out.

“Squids and Cuttlefish are generally short-lived. So they live a year; they breed only once. So if you damage the eggs or affect their reproductive ability then potentially that will have devastating consequences on the population.”

The Independent Weekly has reason to believe that BHP’s EIS will dismiss the threat, and that its research will claim increased salt levels will not affect local sea life.

“Point Lowly is the last place on the SA coast you would put a desal plant,” says Mr Noonan, “and there are alternatives. We could build a reverse osmosis plant at Elliston on Eyre Peninsula’s west coast. Elliston has the ocean flushing that Pt Lowly lacks and enormous potential for year-round wind energy. Taxpayers are paying 20 per cent of the desalination plant’s capital cost and we should also have a big say on where it goes. It’s not good enough to leave it up to BHP.”

BHP wants to build at Port Bonython near Whyalla purely because it’s cheaper than on the ocean coast. The Independent Weekly expects the EIS to say that it will pipe desalinated water about 350 kilometres to the mine. At a cost of about $1.2 million per kilometre, such a pipeline will cost the company more than $400 million and it may want to take the shortest possible route irrespective of environmental concerns along the way. The EIS will talk about the pipeline as well as the plant, and conclude that environmental problems or risks are negligible or manageable.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Desalination plants require vast amounts of energy. The Independent Weekly expects the still-secret EIS to say it will need about 75 megawatts to run the plant, and a further 25 megawatts to pump the water from Port Bonython to Olympic Dam.

The EIS is likely to recommend a gas-fired generator to power the desal plant, but the actual mine’s energy requirements are far larger than that. At full production, the mine will use one-third of South Australia’s current electricity requirements. This will affect SA’s energy future for the mine’s 100-year life.

Where will it get the power? BHP is almost certain to say it wants a gas-fired power station at Olympic Dam and buy an increased load off the grid.

Government greenhouse targets set out in the State Strategic Plan want carbon dioxide emissions capped to 108 per cent of the 1990 levels by the year 2012. Premier Mike Rann has also given a commitment to limit CO2 emissions to 60 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. But the mine’s expansion could increase SA’s total CO2 emissions by more than 10 per cent.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has now signed the Kyoto accord which sets similar goals, and that means Peter Garrett may have an influence on energy as well as water.

And then there’s the diesel. The expanded mine will a million litres of diesel a day, or two billion litres, just to reach the ore. The Federal Government is paying BHP a diesel fuel rebate of 18.5 cents a litre, a taxpayer subsidy to the world’s largest mining company.

CONCENTRATE ORE NOT

Open-cut mining is essentially a simple operation: dig it up and offer it for sale. But rather than ship raw earth around the world, mining companies generally process the rock to some degree by concentrating ore on site. Despite early promises, BHP will not go a step further and build a smelter here. Smelting produces mineral in its almost-pure form as well as thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

BHP initially indicated the concentrate would be smelted here and not in China. The Premier believed such assurances. “What we’re negotiating with BHP Billiton for is to make sure that as many jobs are done here in SA, that the work is done here rather than processed offshore,” he said in 2007.

“We’ve been negotiating with BHP Billiton and, despite what I read in one newspaper recently, the negotiations have been proceeding amicably.”

But the newspaper was right. In October 2008 the company finally announced that it had abandoned smelter plans. BHP uranium and Olympic Dam development boss Graeme Hunt said the company had given “very careful consideration” to processing options, and had decided to sell its product as concentrate rather than as refined metal.

“On-site smelting has a high capital cost and increases project execution risk, particularly in the isolated area in which Olympic Dam is established,” he said despite the Premier’s fury over the job losses.

But while the Premier said the Government would strongly oppose the company doing most of the processing overseas in 2007, by 2008 Treasurer Kevin Foley knew he was licked. “We want as much value added as possible to take place at the mine site but that is to be negotiated. One has to be realistic and constructive in negotiations,” Mr Foley acknowledged.

That decision has enormous repercussions. The EIS might say that if it exports 1.6 million tonnes of copper concentrate, that will make 400,000 tonnes of pure copper in China – and a few thousand tonnes of recoverable uranium. A country like China can extract that uranium and use it for nuclear power, and while Mr Rann opposes such a power station here he’s a strong advocate for it elsewhere.

On a visit to China in 2008, the Premier said his confidence had been buoyed by its potential as a uranium market. “Every single meeting I went to was about uranium,” he said. “We have got 50 per cent of the world’s uranium in SA. We are in pole position.”

He may have suddenly been bumped to the back of the grid. The Independent Weekly understands that the Federal Government is planning much tougher safeguards relating to uranium sales to China, even if it’s gift-wrapped in copper concentrate. BHP does not yet have export permits for that uranium. In May next year nuclear non-proliferation nations, Australia included, will meet in New York. Australia may want a new international treaty to make sure Olympic Dam uranium does not end up in Chinese bombs.

THE STING IS IN THE TAILINGS

Concentrated ore contains much higher percentages of gold, uranium and copper than what’s dug out of the ground. The stuff left behind after this process, called tailings, still contains vast quantities of radio-active material. The EIS will go to great length to say this isn’t a problem.

But problem it may be. Tailings have about 80 per cent of the radio-activity of the original ore. They contain radium and other decay products. Tailings are dust. They blow in the wind. There is wind in central Australia. An honest EIS might suggest that tailings have the potential, not to put to fine a point on it, to pollute.

A long way north of Olympic Dam is the Ranger uranium mine in NT’s Kakadu National Park. That mine will close in 2021. Federal Government environmental guidelines specify that the Ranger tailings be re-buried and rendered inactive for 10,000 years.

Peter Garret’s office, which will take longer than 14 weeks to assess this EIS, may demand the same level of safety at Olympic Dam.

If you walk around Olympic Dam now, you’ll see a mountain of tailings from the existing mine. It’s piled 30 metres high – the same height as a six-storey building – over four square kilometres. The new expanded mine could produce more dust than the average home vacuum cleaner has to handle – 70 million tonnes of tailings every year.

A RIGHT ROYAL FUTURE

The EIS is a statement of environmental impact, but it will also address royalties – the money the company pays the state to mine the ore. According to calculations done by SA Unions, mining royalties in this state are less than half those in other mining states, with only 3.5 per cent here compared with 7.5 per cent in WA for bauxite and iron ore, and seven to 10 per cent in Queensland.

So what’s the next step? BHP will hold a series of Eyre Peninsula and local town meetings from late this month, explaining its proposal and why it says the environmental risks are miniscule. Meanwhile scientists, economists, environmentalists, fishing groups and pastoralists will speed-read the document and make a response. BHP is then obliged to consider those responses and deliver its own verdict on the submissions. That’s when the fun starts.

When the final EIS, the supplement, is complete and released it will be assessed by state and federal governments. The Independent Weekly believes that this process will not be complete before the next state election due in March 2010. That means SA will go to the polls not knowing the government’s response to “the biggest document ever produced in this state” or the biggest mining project this country has ever seen.

Nor will we know how governments are going to deal with environmental issues which touch on global questions such as Australia’s part in the nuclear cycle, national demands such as energy requirements, and local threats such as a briny Spencer Gulf.

So here’s a prediction. Tomorrow’s EIS will say the project can go ahead on environmental grounds. The company will start moving to begin expansion and hope for a global economic recovery to coincide with increased production. BHP will pass the break-even point on its multi-billion investment within the first two decades, and after that it’s money in the bank all the way down to the year 2100.

But first, there’ll be new legislation presented in State Parliament to legalise the process. It will be a new form of the 1982 Roxby Downs Indenture Ratification Act. It will, once again, over-ride every other Act of Parliament passed up to now and into the future. The first that South Australians see of that legislation will be after the state election.

And BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam will have an economic and environmental impact that is synonymous with mining on this scale: incomparable and unimaginable.

http://www.independentweekly.com.au/news/local/news/general/olympic-dam-eis-impact-of-the-worlds-biggest-mine/1501992.aspx?storypage=7

BHP Billiton Ltd says it is going ahead with the multi-billion dollar expansion to turn its Olympic Dam mine in the South Australian outback into the largest open cut on earth, but the miner still needs approval from the federal and state governments.

The open cut at Olympic Dam would be biggest man-made hole in the world, lifting ore production at the site six-fold, which would require expanded minerals processing facilities.

Underpinning the proposed expansion is uranium exports to countries like China, BHP said.

BHP has laid out an ambitious timetable for redevelopment in its 4600-page environmental impact statement (EIS) today and estimates excavation work to begin in July 2010 at the earliest.

“The expansion described in this latest EIS would be a progressive development requiring construction activity over a period of 11 years,” the miner said in a statement.

BHP said the expansion could lift uranium oxide output to up to 19,000 tonnes a year from 4,500.

“Exporting uranium to new customers like China will be an integral part of creating value from the Olympic Dam ore body,” said Dean Dalla Valle, chief operating officer for the company’s Uranium Australia unit.

“We can do this with confidence because China is subject to the same strict safeguards arrangements as all of our other customers, he said.

Australia’s uranium industry has been hamstrung since the early 1980s by political hostility to the nuclear fuel, but long-standing bans on new mines by various state governments are gradually being lifted in the face of economic crisis.

The national government is also encouraging more uranium mining and courting new export business in China.

BHP, facing downturns in its major markets as the crisis bites, has cut 200 jobs at Olympic Dam as part of some 6,000 cuts worldwide as it battles falling commodities prices and demand.

The global miner said the additional support infrastructure would include a coastal desalination plant, a new power line and possibly a gas fired power station, a train line, an airport and additional housing for workers.

The environmental grounds of the expansion still need to be approved by the federal and state governments, and then by the BHP board. Only after board approval will the miner provide cost estimations.

The miner has set the timeframe of the project at 40 years, but has left the door open to a longer operation life, suggested by the size of the mineral resources.

A longer life for the mine will require more environmental approvals.

The draft EIS will be on public display for 14 weeks, when submissions can be made to government.

However, Dalla Valle said “we still have a lot of work to do before we can tell you when this project may start and how much it may cost”.

Some analysts have suggested the expansion could cost as much as $20 billion.

With no nuclear power industry of its own but sitting on the world’s single largest source, Australia sells all its uranium overseas, making Australia the world’s second-largest supplier behind Canada.

Russia and India have also expressed strong interest in buying Australian uranium to fuel nuclear power plants.

http://www.businessspectator.com.au/bs.nsf/Article/BHP-lays-out-plans-for-Olympic-Dam-expansion-still-pd20090501-RM8ZX?OpenDocument

BHP’s Olympic Dam mine to kickstart recovery

Jamie Walker and Michael Owen | May 02, 2009

Article from: The Australian
BHP Billiton has shrugged off the global economic blues to press ahead with plans to turn its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia into the largest open cut on earth and help kick the economy back into prosperity.

A 4600-page environmental impact statement, released by the company yesterday, set out an ambitious timetable for the conversion of the copper, gold, silver and uranium mine from underground to pit operations.

Work would start as early as April next year on the multi-billion-dollar upgrade.

Under BHP Billiton’s best-case scenario, excavation of the 1km-deep mine pit, and possibly construction of a pipeline to supply a gas power plant, would be under way by July next year.

By that time, a mini-city known as Hiltaba Village would be rising in the desert to house the thousands of workers needed for the project. This would be in addition to the expansion of the existing township of Roxby Downs.

The mine’s workforce would double from 4000 to 8000 when it reached full capacity next decade.

By then, Olympic Dam would be the world’s biggest single producer of uranium and one of the biggest of copper.

While the company stressed it would not release costings until the expansion received necessary environmental approvals from federal and state governments, and was then approved by the BHP Billiton board, its determination to see through planning will be a confidence-booster for the resource sector, hit hard by the global financial turmoil and reduced commodities prices.

The open cut envisaged by BHP Billiton at Olympic Dam would become the biggest man-made hole on the planet and yield $1 trillion worth of ore over its century-long life, more than $100million of which would be paid in royalties to the South Australian Government. Production would lift six-fold from 12million tonnes of ore annually to 72 million tonnes after 2020.

The news was welcomed by residents of the nearby mining town of Roxby Downs, where the boom had turned to gloom amid recent job cuts at Olympic Dam and falling local property values.

BHP Billiton will seek state and federal approvals to export up to 1.6 million tonnes a year of powdery copper-based concentrate with a low-level uranium content of about 2000 parts per million.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann, backed by the Howard government, was initially sharply critical of the company’s plan to send the concentrate to China rather than refine it here.

Mr Rann adopted a more conciliatory note yesterday, welcoming the EIS.

“We will work with BHP Billiton to maximise the number of jobs here … the point is it hasnot yet been approved,” Mr Rann said.

The existing underground operation at Olympic Dam currently ranks it as the 16th-largest in copper and third in uranium in the world.

Underground mining can extract only about 25 per cent of the ore containing recoverable quantities of copper, uranium, gold and silver; an open pit would allow up to 98 per cent of the known ore body to be exploited.

The proposed cut operation would work in tandem with the existing underground mine. The current smelter would also be expanded, although not to the extent that would be the case if two-thirds of the copper concentrate produced was not sent to China for processing.

Concern for the struggling Australian Giant Cuttlefish, which breeds in the area and was said by some conservationists to have been threatened by discharge from the desalination plant, have been dismissed by BHP Billiton.

After a specially extended 14-week public consultation period on the EIS, which ends on August 7, BHP Billiton will provide federal and state governments with a supplementary report for assessment. If the expansion were approved, the company’s board would make a final decision early next year.

South Australian Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway yesterday said the Government was not blinded by the wealth on offer at Olympic Dam.

“If there are issues we do not believe have been addressed properly, then we will ask BHP to reconsider them and make appropriate amendments,” Mr Holloway said.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25416641-5006787,00.html