BHP's Olympic run stalledBARRY FITZGERALD
October 7, 2009 - 12:55PM
Production at Australia's biggest underground mine, BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam operation in outback South Australia, has been hit by a mechanical failure in the biggest of its two haulage shafts.
The mine last year hauled close to 10 million tonnes of copper, uranium and gold ore to the surface for treatment.
The value of its production was $1.8 billion (193,000 tonnes of copper, 4000 tonnes of uranium and 108,000 ounces of gold).
The production setback comes as BHP gets close to making a decision on converting Olympic Dam from an underground mine to one of the worlds biggest open-cut operations at a cost of $15-$20 billion.
The breakdown in the Clark shaft means that BHP will struggle to continue to haul the massive volumes of ore - from depths of below 400 metres - required to keep the surface treatment plant and processing facilities at full capacity.
BHP is still assessing the time it will take to return the Clark shaft to production and has told the stock exchange that it was unclear what impact the incident would have on production. A secondary haulage shaft is now being used.
BHP told the exchange that the mechanical failure occurred at 10.30pm yesterday. The haulage system used at Olympic Dam is fully automated, and no-one was injured in the incident.
''A full investigation is underway to determine the cause of the failure and the extent of the damage,'' BHP said.
''The safety of our workforce will take priority in determining any re-start of haulage operations,'' it said.
Safety at BHP operations has come under scrutiny following five deaths at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara in the June year, prompting an independent review under West Australian safety legislation.