BHP granted more time in Olympic Dam expansion

The South Australian Government has granted BHP Billiton a four year extension so it can invest more time to plan its Olympic Dam expansion.

Today the government granted the miner a four year extension to October 2016, with SA premier Jay Weatherill saying it meant BHP was in the best position to go ahead with the redevelopment of the project.

"There is no doubt that this is a world-class ore body. There's also no doubt that they want to develop this resource," Weatherill said.

However, BHP CEO Marius Kloppers said that while the company was eager to approve the redevelopment of Olympic Dam, he could not guarantee it.

"We can unfortunately make no commitment, “he said.

ABC reports that BHP Billiton has agreed to spend $650 million during the next research phase of the project, of which $110 million has been earmarked for community-related activities.

The move comes after BHP cancelled its $US20 billion expansion plans in August, blaming weak commodity prices and rising costs.

In announcing the cutback BHP said it was looking at a different plan "involving new technologies" to make the project cheaper.

"Olympic Dam is a resource of enormous potential and we will continue to work on technological and design alternatives that have the potential to substantially improve the economics of the expansion, while also completing some early stage site works," a statement read at the time.

In September, BHP wrote a letter to the government requesting the extension.

At the time, South Australian Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Tom Koutsantonis said the request for an extension highlighted the mining giant’s commitment to the project.

BHP had told him they expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars advancing the project which would involve extracting the minerals by leaching them out of crushed ore.

Koutsantonis said much of the new work would involve university researchers rather than BHP employees directly.
"BHP are committed to getting this new technology right, it means millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on research here in South Australia," Koutsantonis at the time.

Today, Greens leader Mark Parnell questioned the government’s decision asking why BHP were given "four more years for a dud project?"