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Olympic Dam using innovation to enter growth phase

9 March 2016

Today I visited BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam operations in South Australia to see first-hand its innovative approach to beating lower commodity prices.

The Olympic Dam mine has the world’s fifth largest copper, third largest gold and the single biggest uranium deposits.

It employs around 3,000 people and it is estimated that the resource could support 200 years of operations, with around 70 per cent of the resource currently untouched.

This promises to provide a long term industry and jobs for South Australia.

To help beat lower commodity prices, BHP Billiton has undertaken a targeted campaign to improve the productivity and cost base of its Olympic Dam operations, with innovation playing an integral role.

This has already decreased unit costs at Olympic Dam by 36 per cent this financial year.

Importantly,the company is investing in new techniques such as heap leaching to create more efficient extraction methods which could reduce overall mine costs by around a further 10 per cent.

The outlook for the Olympic Dam operations is positive with BHP Billiton seeking to expand the underground mine’s tunnels by around 30 per cent over the next five years while increasing production from around 200kt this year to around 450kt by 2025.

This will provide a platform for Australia’s annual uranium exports to increase by more than 50 per cent by 2019-20 and annual copper exports to increase by around 30 per cent over the same period.

The Government is focused on supporting the use of innovation across the resources sector.

In particular, the application of geoscience technology through Geoscience Australia provides the technical capacity to undertake geological mapping of mineral deposits, which can assist in de-risking exploration in Australia.

The benefits of this technology are clear. Regional geophysics data compiled across South Australia in the 1960s, costing around $350,000, helped identify the resource potential of the Olympic Dam region and ultimately to the discovery of ore more than 300 metres underground.

With around 70 per cent of Australia’s copper production and 80 per cent of Australia’s total known uranium resources, South Australia’s resources industry has a strong, long term future ahead.

The Olympic Dam operations are an example of the resilience of Australia’s resources sector, where the challenges of lower commodity prices have been combated through increased productivity and the use of innovation.

Coupled with the long term positive outlook for global commodity markets, the future continues to look bright for Australia’s world-class industry.

Media contact: Mr Frydenberg's office 02 6277 7180
Department media: media [at] industry.gov.au