Production from BHP’s WAIO operations is approaching 300 million mt/y. (Photo: BHP)

In its recent 2023 financial year production report, BHP said its Western Australian Iron Ore (WAIO) segment achieved record production of 253 million mt (285 million mt on a 100% basis), reflecting continued strong supply chain performance, including improved rail performance and increased car dumper utilization. This was partially offset by the temporary suspension of operations following a fatality in February, unfavorable weather impacts from Tropical Cyclone Ilsa in the June 2023 quarter, and the ongoing planned tie-in of PDP1, which remains on track to be completed in the 2024 calendar year.

South Flank remains on track to ramp up to full production capacity of 80 million mt/y by the end of the 2024 financial year. Its 2023 performance has contributed to record annual production at the Mining Area C hub and record WAIO lump sales. Additionally, the deployment of autonomous haul trucks at South Flank was completed in May.

WAIO also achieved record shipments for the year, which was inclusive of sales of 249 million mt (281 million mt on a 100% basis) and inventory in China of almost 4 million mt for portside sales.

WAIO production is expected to increase to between 250-260 million mt (282-294 million mt on a 100% basis) in the 2024 financial year.

Samarco’s production in Brazil increased by 11% to 4.5 million mt (BHP share), as a result of higher concentrator throughput. Production for FY 2024 is expected to be between 4-4.5 million mt (BHP share). All-in BHP’s total iron ore production increased by 1% to 257 million mt. Production for FY 2024 is expected to be 254-264.5 million mt.

BHP said its total copper production for FY 2023 increased by 9% to 1.7 million metric tons (mt). Production for FY 2024 is expected to be between 1.7 – 1.9 million mt.

Copper production at the massive Escondida mine in Chile increased by 5% to more than 1 million mt primarily due to higher concentrator feed grade of 0.82%, compared to 0.78% in FY 2022. The positive impact of the higher grade was partially offset by the impact of road blockades across Chile last year, which reduced availability of some key mine supplies. Full-year production came in at the low end of revised guidance largely as a result of measures implemented to manage geotechnical events in a high-grade section of the Escondida pit. These included resequencing of the mine plan, resulting in lower-than-anticipated volumes of mined ore and increased processing of lower-grade stockpiles through the concentrators. Production is expected to increase to between 1.1 – 1.2 million mt for FY 2024 based on an expected increase in concentrator feed grade and an expected increase in concentrator throughput.

Pampa Norte copper production increased by 3% to 289,000 mt, including a record 240,000 mt at Spence and 49,000 mt at Cerro Colorado. This was largely a result of higher concentrator throughput at the Spence Growth Option (SGO), partially offset by lower production at Cerro Colorado as it transitions towards closure. The concentrator plant modifications, which commenced in August 2022, remain on track to be completed in the 2023 calendar year. Expected capital expenditure for the concentrator modification works remains unchanged at approximately $100 million.

Production for Spence is expected to be between 210,000 mt and 250,000 mt for FY 2024, with planned higher concentrator grade and concentrator throughput but lower stacking grade for cathodes. Cerro Colorado continues to transition towards planned closure by December 2023, with production for the six months until closure expected to be approximately 9,000 mt BHP said it was continuing to closely monitor previously identified Spence Tailings Storage Facility anomalies.

Following the completion its acquisition of OZ Ltd., BHP said it had established the Copper South Australia (CSA) business unit. Production from CSA was 232,000 mt, comprised of full-year production from Olympic Dam of 212,000 mt and two months of production from Prominent Hill and Carrapateena of 8,000 mt and 12,000 mt respectively. Olympic Dam delivered record BHP copper production as a result of continued strong concentrator and smelter performance following the major smelter maintenance campaign last year. Record annual gold and silver production, at 27% higher than the previous gold production record, was also achieved following the implementation of debottlenecking initiatives in the prior year.

Copper production at Antamina decreased by 8% to 138,000 mt reflecting the expected lower copper feed grades, partially offset by higher throughput. Zinc production was 1% higher at 125,000 mt, reflecting higher throughput. BHP is forecasting copper production of 120,000 – 140,000 mt and zinc production of between 85,000-105,000 for Antamina for the FY 2024.

Production at BHP’s Nickel West increased by 4% to 80,000 mt due to an increased proportion of concentrate and matte products and inventory drawdowns. This was partially offset by the slower-than-planned ramp-up of the refinery following planned maintenance at the end of last year and a heavy rain event at the Mt Keith operations in early April 2023 impacting mine progression.

The company expects FY 2024 production to be between 77,000-87,000 mt, weighted toward the second half of the year due to planned refinery maintenance in the first half.

First potash production at Jansen is still targeted for the end of 2026, compared to the initial target of 2027. In the June 2023 quarter, the company completed all piling activities for the mill and storage facilities. During the 2024 financial year, BHP said it will transition from civil works into steel and equipment installation on the surface and underground, as well as continuing with equipment procurement. Port construction will also continue. The company said the feasibility study for Jansen Stage 2 continues to progress and is on track to be completed during the 2024 financial year.