A significant milestone has been achieved at Fortescue Metals Group’s Eliwana iron ore mine and rail project, with first ore going through its onsite processing facility at its Western Hub in Pilbara, WA.

The celebrations were marked with an official opening event yesterday attended by Fortescue chief executive Elizabeth Gaines, Fortescue deputy chairman Mark Barnaba AM, WA Mines Minister Bill Johnston and representatives from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP).

Ms Gaines said Eliwana was the next important stage of development of Fortescue’s world-class integrated operations.

“Exploration commenced in this area in 2006, and we have now delivered a new 30mtpa dry ore processing facility and infrastructure, along with 143km of rail which is in the final stages of construction,” she said.

“Eliwana will see us maintain our low-cost status and provide us with greater flexibility across our product mix.

“Construction of the mine, village and infrastructure was completed safely over a 12-month period, in line with budget and schedule.”

Fortescue deputy chair Mark Barnaba and WA Mines Minister Bill Johnston holding a pot of Eliwana ore.

WA Mines Minister Bill Johnston congratulated Fortescue and all stakeholders involved in the completion of the Eliwana project.

“This important project created around 2000 jobs during construction and will create 500 full-time site positions as the team move into operations,” he said.

“Fortescue’s Eliwana mine will deliver a significant boost to WA’s economy, during the post-COVID-19 recovery phase, and contribute to the State’s ongoing successful iron ore industry.”

Under Fortescue’s Billion Opportunities program, a total of 14% of the Eliwana operations workforce is made up of Aboriginal people and $150m worth of contracts were awarded to Aboriginal businesses.

“In addition, 23% of our Eliwana operations team are women, contributing to our commitment to increase gender diversity across our operations,” Ms Gaines said.

“The Eliwana project has delivered a significant boost to the State and industry, with contracts valued at $1.83b awarded to Australian businesses.

“This includes contracts awarded to 290 WA businesses, with local procurement totalling 84% of the project spend.”

WA’s iron ore sector is the biggest employer in the State’s mining industry, providing jobs for nearly half of WA’s 107,457 mine workers.

Iron ore sales reached a record $103b in FY20, with Fortescue’s sales, 178.2t, accounting for more than 21%.