BHP Billiton announced in early February 2012 approval of $917 million (BHP Billiton share $779 million) in pre-commitment funding for the construction of a 100-million-mt/y outer harbor ship-loading facility at Port Hedland, Western Australia, to provide for export of iron ore from its expanding Western Australia iron ore operations.

The project is expected to be reviewed for full approval in the fourth quarter of 2012 and has an embedded option to expand by a further 100 million mt/y. The current funding will enable the company to progress feasibility studies and procurement of long-lead-time items. It will also allow for dredging to begin, subject to the necessary regulatory approvals.

In parallel with this work, engineering studies are under way to match mine and rail expansions to the expanded port capacity. The first phase of the outer harbor development would include proposed construction of a 4-km jetty, a four-berth wharf, 32 km of dredged departure channel, and landside infrastructure, including stockyards and a rail spur. Start-up would be in the first half of 2016.

BHP Billiton’s announcement of initial funding for the Port Hedland outer harbor development followed a recommendation in late January for approval of the project by Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority, subject to rigorous conditions to limit environmental impacts.