BHP $350m investment in Olympic Dam to involve 1300 contractors

Olympic Dam. Image: BHP.

BHP plans to spend $350 million revamping its Olympic Dam smelter operations in a move that will see the South Australian mine’s copper production fall.

The overhaul, to take place between August and November, involves rebuilding elements of the smelter flash furnace, demolishing and building an electric slag furnace, and removing and replacing a five-storey electro static precipitator.

BHP flagged it would carry out the maintenance program in yesterday’s operational review, which outlined that copper production at Olympic Dam was forecast to drop to 150,000 tonnes in the 2018 financial year due to the works.

However, the expected improvement in operational performance following the project will increase copper production to around 215,000 tonnes in the 2019 financial year, according to BHP.

In fiscal 2017, copper production at Olympic Dam fell 18 per cent against the previous year to 166,000 tonnes.

Olympic Dam asset president Jacqui McGill said the smelter maintenance campaign was the largest planned shutdown by BHP in the state.

“There will be 1300 contractors at Olympic Dam during the peak of construction as teams work around the clock to dismantle, rebuild and upgrade integral components of the facility,” McGill said.

“Work is under way on site with teams preparing to dismantle old infrastructure and starting to take delivery of more than 350 material loads to support the project.

“The rolling shutdown across the surface operations starts in August with the maintenance campaign running for more than 100 days in total.”

BHP will also use the Olympic Dam downtime to undertake additional refinery maintenance.

The diversified miner last month announced it had spent $250 million over the past four years to develop the Southern Mine Area (SMA) at Olympic Dam.

General manager Troy Wilson described the SMA investment – on horizontal development, vertical development and enabling surface infrastructure – as the future of the mine. It is expected to significantly increase the volumes mined at the site.

Olympic Dam, about 560km north of Adelaide, is one of the world’s largest and most diverse ore bodies, including deposits of copper, gold, uranium and silver.

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