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How BHP looks to prolong an iconic Australian copper mine

Olympic Dam

BHP’s planned expansion of Olympic Dam could be one of the most significant investments in Australian copper infrastructure in decades.

Speaking at the recent Copper to the World conference, BHP asset president copper Anna Wiley discussed the mining giant’s aspirations for the important metal in South Australia.

“To date, we have unlocked synergies of more than $US50 million ($75 million) per year from our newly combined operations in South Australia,” she said.

“At Olympic Dam, we have invested $1.8 billion over the past five years improving the safety, stability and reliability of our surface processing facilities.

“It’s a big operation – and it’s getting bigger.”

Olympic Dam churned out 212,000 tonnes of copper in the 2022–2023 financial year, and BHP is still making discoveries at depth.

“It’s one of the amazing things about Olympic Dam – we haven’t found the bottom of it yet,” Wiley said.

What’s next?
Wiley touched on BHP’s plans for its copper portfolio in South Australia, which includes:

  • Progress and completion of the Prominent Hill shaft that will haul ore to surface from 1.3 kilometres deep
  • Transition to a block cave at Carrapateena following the recent commissioning of a second underground crusher this year
  • Further underground development at Olympic Dam
  • Ongoing studies into a smelter/refinery expansion at Olympic Dam
  • A new decline at Oak Dam to complete underground exploration and pave the way for a potential underground mine development.

“In the coming years, we hope to make a final investment decision on an expansion of our existing copper refining facilities at Olympic Dam, to construct a two-stage smelter and associated refinery complex,” Wiley said.

“This has the potential to result in production of greater than 500,000 tonnes per annum of copper – and more than 700,000 tonnes of copper equivalent per annum when you include the by-products of gold, silver and uranium.

“This would constitute one of the most significant investments in copper metal manufacturing infrastructure in Australia for many decades.”

To achieve its copper aspirations, Wiley said it all boils down to partnership and collaboration.

“Investment in skills, training and innovation and a thriving METS (mining equipment, technology and services) sector that builds our collective capability to lead the next generation of technologies and systems will be critically important to South Australia across a range of sectors.”

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