Iron ore miners Vale, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals all issued production reports during the week of July 16. All were producing at record rates at mid-year 2012, and all continue to pursue plans for future production increases.

                Vale: Vale produced 150.5 million mt of iron ore during the first six months of 2012, down slightly from 151.8 million mt produced during the first six months of 2011; however, during the second-quarter, production totaled 80.5 million mt, setting a new quarterly production record for the company. The overall six-month decline was attributed to adverse weather conditions during the first quarter.

                Vale’s production of iron ore pellets rose to 26.9 million mt during the first half of 2012 from 25.7 million mt during the first half of 2011. The increase was largely attributed to the ramp up of new pellet production at Vale’s industrial complex in Oman.

                Vale celebrated its 70th anniversary on June 1, 2012. Simultaneously, the company crossed the 5-billion-mt mark for cumulative iron ore production since the company’s incorporation.

                “This is a major achievement stemming from a combination of hard work, technological innovation, and a generous endowment of natural resources dedicated to supplying the best iron ore in the world to the global steel industry. Metals are the backbone of the modern economy, and Vale as a global mining leader will continue to play an important role in supporting the economic development of nations,” the Vale announcement said.

                In late June, Vale obtained the preliminary environmental license for its 90-million-mt/y S11D iron ore project in the Carajás region of Brazil, where operations are expected to start in the second half of 2016 (See story above).

                Rio Tinto: Rio Tinto’s attributable share of iron ore production at its operations during first six months of 2012 rose to 94.3 million mt, up from 90.7 million mt during the first six months of 2011. During the second quarter, Rio Tinto announced further investments to advance the expansion of its Pilbara iron ore production to 353 million mt/y by the first half of 2015 and to progress further the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea.

                On June 20, 2012, Rio Tinto announced an investment of $2 billion (100% basis $3.5 billion) over the next four years to complete the port and rail elements of the Pilbara expansion project. At the same time, a further $1.7 billion (Rio Tinto share 100%) of largely sustaining capital expenditure was announced to extend the life of the Yandicoogina mine to 2021 and expand its nameplate capacity from 52 million mt/y to 56 million mt/y.

                Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese said, “Global economic conditions and sentiment dropped markedly in the second quarter of 2012. We are keeping a close eye on the pace of the U.S. recovery, the continuing Eurozone crisis, and the impact of efforts to stimulate the Chinese economy on the markets that we serve.

                Our investment program remains resilient to this market volatility, as our tier-one projects are robust under any probable macroeconomic scenario.”

                BHP Billiton: BHP Billiton delivered its 12th consecutive annual iron ore production record during its fiscal year ended June 30, 2012. Production attributable to the company at its Pilbara operations in Western Australia totaled 148.1 million mt, up from 122.7 million mt during the previous fiscal year. On a 100% basis, production at these operations rose to 174.2 million mt from 144.3 million mt during the previous fiscal year.

                Consistently strong operating performance, the ramp-up of Ore Handling Plant 3 at its Yandi mine, dual tracking of the company’s rail infrastructure, and additional ship-loading capacity at Port Hedland contributed to the record result, BHP Billiton said. Production at the company’s Pilbara operations is forecast in increase by about 5% during the coming fiscal year.

                Fortescue Metals: Fortescue Metals continued its rapid rate of growth during its fiscal fourth quarter, ending June 30, with production of 19.1 million mt of “iron ore, up from 12.3 million mt during the year earlier period. Current scheduling calls for production of 38 million mt during Fortescue’s current fiscal first half to the end of December 2012 and 89 million mt for its fiscal full year ending June 30, 2013.

                With major new production coming online during its fiscal second half to June 30, 2013, Fortescue is targeting a run rate of 155 million mt/y by that date. The company expects to consolidate its production rate at 155 million mt/y before proceeding with new expansion plans but is continuing to develop expansion options based on its expanding Pilbara resource base.