Drilling continues at a South Australian copper site that represents one of the most significant copper discoveries in recent history, bringing South Australia one step closer to becoming Australia’s copper capital.

BHP has bolstered its operations at Oak Dam since the State Government gave approval for the site’s exploration program last year – with 12 rigs presently onsite and the majority of its 150-person drilling camp now occupied.

BHP has established an integrated copper province in the state’s far north by combining the Prominent Hill and Carrapateena mines with its existing Olympic Dam mine, smelter and refinery and Oak Dam exploration prospect.

Encouraging exploration data at Oak Dam is coupled with promising returns from a significant exploration drilling program beneath BHP’s existing mine at Olympic Dam.

The so-called ‘OD Deeps’ program has identified extremely high grades of copper deep underneath the Olympic Dam ore body, in some instances of more than two per cent.

The South Australian Government has facilitated transfers of copper concentrate from Prominent Hill and Carrapateena to the Olympic Dam processing facility for smelting and refining.

BHP is assessing options for a new two-stage smelter at Olympic Dam which would more than double the capacity of the existing smelter from 0.5Mt to 1.0Mt-1.7Mt, with an ambition to lift copper production to around 500,000 tonnes a year.

More treatment of concentrates and ores means more complexity in our economy and higher-value exports, which stands to benefit all South Australians.

The opportunity for copper in the global economy is huge – it is the cornerstone for all electrical equipment and industrial machinery, and one of the most important minerals in the world’s quest for decarbonisation. 

The global demand for copper is expected to double over the next 30 years, compared to the last 30.

Australia is home to 13 per cent of the world’s copper resources – second only to Chile – and South Australia hosts almost 70 per cent of that resource, with much of this resource yet to be developed.

South Australia is already a global copper producer, but there is a clear ambition to dramatically elevate its standing in the global supply chain.

BHP’s South Australian province copper operations and growth ambitions have the potential to bring significantly more jobs, skills, local business opportunities and economic growth for the state.

The South Australian Government says there is a lot of work to be done to realise the potential of the copper province, and strategic infrastructure like the Northern project will be key.

The Northern Water Business Case found that the project would facilitate a tripling of copper mining volumes in the state, including generating a forecast $9 billion in additional royalties.

Without a new water supply to the region, this opportunity may not be able to materialise.

South Australian Premier, Peter Malinauskas, said copper is a key component in the State Prosperity Plan.

“It is unquestionably the commodity of decarbonisation, and our state’s mineral wealth – confirmed by new exploration results underneath Olympic Dam and at Oak Dam – will increasingly play a critical role in the world’s ongoing energy transformation.

“BHP hope to more than double the size of their smelter – which means more jobs, opportunity and greater prosperity for our state.

“There is enormous amounts of copper in our state’s north, but to extract and refine it, we need something in short supply – water.

“That’s exactly why my government is partnering with industry to progress plans for the Northern Water project, which has the potential to deliver an additional five billion dollars in economic activity to our state each year.”

South Australian Minister for Energy and Mining, Tom Koutsantonis, said that Olympic Dam is already one of the most exciting copper deposits in the world.

“This, together with the results of the Oak Dam exploration campaign, reinforces South Australia’s growing international reputation as a world-class copper province.

“The Malinauskas Government has a clear ambition to translate those exploration results into value-added production that creates jobs, generates royalties and boosts South Australia’s prosperity.”

BHP’s Asset President Copper South Australia, Anna Wiley, said that BHP has created an integrated copper province that it hopes will bring the scale required to economically and sustainably produce and process more copper in South Australia and deliver it to global customers.

“Our South Australian operations are performing well and we’ve had further exploration success.”

Ms Wiley said that The Oak Dam exploration project is progressing with 12 rigs on site, 150km of drilling completed, a core processing facility on-site and 150 person accommodation camp nearly complete.

“We’re also exploring in an area below the known Olympic Dam deposit, known as Olympic Dam Deeps.”


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