Rebuffed BHP wired for bigger Aussie 'copper province'

Business

Mining giant BHP needs more Australian copper as the energy transition and rise of big data increases the pressure for decades of supply.

"Global megatrends are shaping our future," asset president of BHP's copper business in South Australia Anna Wiley told a conference in Adelaide on Tuesday.

Copper presented a "significant opportunity" for South Australia, and the nation, as BHP looked to meet the demand for a product needed to decarbonise the world, she said.

But efficient permitting and approvals, access to water, and underlying stability in fiscal, policy and regulatory settings were crucial, she said.

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Ms Wiley oversees the company's South Australian copper operations at Olympic Dam, Carrapateena and Prominent Hill, with a growth project underway or being studied at every BHP site in the state.

South Africa's Anglo American in May rejected a $74 billion takeover bid, leaving BHP to take another look at existing assets for the next generation of copper.

There were only so many world-class copper resources remaining in the world, which placed additional importance on existing operations, she said.

In South Australia, where BHP in 2023 completed the $9.7 billion acquisition of OZ Minerals, the two companies' copper operations are being consolidated.

"BHP acquired the Carrapateena and Prominent Hill mines, that alongside Olympic Dam has created the copper province that we now looking to grow," she said.

Along with the three underground copper mines, BHP operates a nationally significant smelter and refinery complex in the state's far north.

"We are on track to produce between 310 to 340 thousand tonnes of copper this financial year, as well as producing globally significant quantities of co-products, uranium, gold and silver every year," she said.

"To date, we have unlocked synergies of more than US$50 million per year from our newly combined operations in SA."

More synergies were expected from processing concentrate from Prominent Hill and Carrapateena through a central smelter, she added.

BHP is running one of the largest copper exploration and drilling programs in Australia, hopes to make Oak Dam the fourth mine in its SA copper province, and is yet to find the bottom of Olympic Dam.

Ms Wiley said a final investment decision on an expansion of copper metal manufacturing at Olympic Dam, to construct a two-stage smelter and associated refinery complex, would be made in the "coming years".

The state government's recently formed copper task force to streamline investment was "a positive development and shows their commitment to sustainable growth", she said.

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