BHP Billiton’s newest Pilbara mine and processing hub has officially opened, and will increase the company’s WA total annual iron ore supply chain output to more than 220 million tonnes per annum.
The US$3.6 billion Jimblebar iron ore project, 40km east of Newman, was opened in late April by WA Premier Colin Barnett, BHP iron ore president Jimmy Wilson and representatives from Japanese joint venture partners ITOCHU Corporation and Mitsui and Co.
The site is expected to deliver phase one capacity of 35mtpa of iron ore by the end of the 2015 financial year. Long term, Jimblebar may be ramped up to 55mtpa production capacity following a positive assessment of market demand and broader debottlenecking of the supply chain.
This expansion would increase WA’s iron ore output to between 260mtpa and 270mtpa. The mine development included a duplicate rail line to the Jimblebar hub, a 4 million tonne capacity stockyard, a new fleet of earthmoving equipment, a primary crusher and four mobile crushers, and a new ore handling plant.
Other infrastructure included plant workshops, fuel storage and distribution facilities, water and waste treatment plants, new administration buildings and a state-of-the-art accommodation village. Mr Wilson said the Jimblebar operation design – emphasising the use of autonomous technologies – was based on company research to drive productivity and technological advancement.
“The use of autonomous haul trucks has the potential to introduce safety benefits by removing people from potentially hazardous environments; increasing the predictability and productivity of haulage operations, providing new employment and training opportunities for our people and reducing the labour intensity of future mining operations,” Mr Wilson said.
“Our pursuit of productivity gains and operational excellence is delivering significant value at Western Australia iron ore. The business is now well positioned to deliver high margin volume growth at a substantially lower cost.”
BHP stated that it would consider expanding its use of autonomous trucks if the technology proved successful at Jimblebar. Mr Wilson noted BHP’s arrangement with the mine site’s traditional landowners, the Nyiyaparli people, offering allocated training, employment and contracting opportunities.
“The agreement we have with the traditional owners will build on our existing relationship and will ensurethat the Nyiyaparli people can share in the benefits of the new mine,” he said. “Over the past two years alone, we have invested over $1.3 billion in the Western Australian community, including community projects, town servicing infrastructure, training opportunities and regional development activities and accommodation.”
Mr Barnett also emphasised Jimblebar’s value to the WA economy. “The construction workforce for this project peaked at almost 2500 people and ongoing operations will generate another 1000 jobs,” he said.
Jimblebar’s opening event was originally scheduled for November 2013, but was postponed due to a tarmac safety issue at Newman airport.