BHP to unlock Olympic Dam copper production with extraction technology

Olympic Dam. Credit: BHP

BHP is confident the heap leach extraction technology it is testing at Olympic Dam has the potential to help lift the mine’s annual copper production to more than 450,000 tonnes, three times its guidance for the 2018 financial year.

The Australian miner today announced a double milestone at Olympic Dam, saying it produced first ore from the underground expansion into the Southern Mining Area (SMA) at the South Australia mine.

It has spent around $250 million in the past four years developing SMA at the multi-commodity operation, investing in horizontal development, vertical development and enabling surface infrastructure.

BHP has also produced the first copper cathode from its heap leach research and development trials at the site to add to the positive developments.

Olympic Dam asset president Jacqui McGill said BHP was taking steps towards unlocking the potential of one of the world’s largest orebodies.

“The move into the SMA forms the foundation of Olympic Dam’s long-term expansion plans, and successful tests of the heap leach copper extraction technology have the potential to support an increase in production to over 450,000 tonnes of copper a year,” McGill said.

“We believe Olympic Dam can underpin jobs and economic development in South Australia for generations to come.

“An estimated $250 million had been invested in the SMA expansion by the end of the 2017 financial year.

“A dedicated team of approximately 180 people have accelerated the development of the Southern Mine Area over the past 15 months, and confirmation today of first ore is a testament to their hard work and commitment.”

The company’s copper guidance for fiscal 2018 is 150,000 tonnes, which is lower than the previous year due to a scheduled smelter maintenance campaign.

McGill believes the heap leaching technology could revolutionise production at the mine.

“Integrated heap leach ore processing is a low-cost processing option being assessed for Olympic Dam to extract copper, uranium, gold and silver from our unique poly-metallic orebody, and support our future growth plans in the state,” McGill said.

BHP plans to undertake a series of larger scale experiments and testing on the heap leach process over the next three years.

The company announced last month that it would invest more than $600 million into the Olympic Dam copper operations in the 2018 financial year.

BHP’s investment will be distributed across three mine areas of Olympic Dam, with around 20 per cent to support underground expansion in the Southern Mine Area including additional fleet, telecommunications, raise bores, power and other services.

Nearly 40 per cent will be used for further underground development in the existing Northern Mine Area footprint, while more than 40 per cent will be allocated to a range of infrastructure and other programs on site including the major smelter campaign.