BHP Billiton gave no new information during its whirlwind visit to Whyalla last week.
A last minute change to last week’s conference saw BHP Billiton’s vice president of external affairs Kym Winter-Dewhirst take to the stage at the Middleback Theatre.
The speech was made at the Global Maintenance Upper Spencer Gulf and South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy Mining and Resources Conference and Trade Expo.
Mr Winter-Dewhirst was accompanied by manager of projects and procurement, uranium projects John Howarth and principal of regional communications and indigenous affairs uranium projects Steve Arndt.
For the past seven years Mr Winter-Dewhirst has been a member of the Olympic Dam project environmental regulatory approvals team with a focus on the Olympic Dam environmental impact study and the state indenture agreement.
Mr Winter-Dewhirst said BHP Billiton had attended the conference to take the opportunity to clarify some facts.
Mr Winter-Dewhirst recapped the announcement, made two weeks ago, almost to the minute of his address at the conference.
“The Olympic Dam project is very important in our world here in South Australia but it is also only one of many projects that make up the business of BHP Billiton,” Mr Winter-Dewhirst said.
“It means decisions are made for commercial reasons with a broad context, a global context.
“Therefore what happens out in the world matters to our business here.
“Our CEO Marius Kloppers said last week that continuing fall in commodity prices, softening international markets and the high Australian dollar have impacted the pipeline of the company’s projects.”
Mr Winter-Dewhirst said it meant that the Olympic Dam project could not be considered.
“Nevertheless development at Olympic Dam remains on our agenda and the company has committed to further investigations to design a less capital intensive open-pit option,” Mr Winter-Dewhirst said.
“This will take time and we are currently putting together a new, albeit smaller, project team.”
Mr Winter-Dewhirst said further site trials would be undertaken but each of the trials would take at least a year, so while it would progress, it would also need more time.
Mr Winter-Dewhirst went on to say that media reports claiming that this was the third time that BHP Billiton had failed to approve the project were incorrect.
“This is the first and only time we have taken our case to our board for approval,” Mr Winter-Dewhirst said.
“It’s the first time we’ve had all regulatory and environmental approvals in place and it’s the first time a complete set of options were available to be considered by the company.”
Mr Winter-Dewhirst said BHP Billiton would develop a new and economic case and take it to the BHP Billiton board some time in the future, but did not specify when this would be.
He went on to remind the audience that since BHP Billiton had acquired the mine in 2005, the company had spent over $3.5 billion purchasing goods and services from South Australian companies.
He added that around $1 billion dollars of that investment had been spent in the Upper Spencer Gulf.
Mr Winter-Dewhirst said the company was still considering the project, and it was not a matter of “if” but “when”, the project would move forward.
See Tuesday’s Whyalla News to read what was addressed during recent discussions between BHP Billiton and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.