PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Mining giant BHP Billiton increased its iron-ore production by 11% in the March quarter to 31,16-million tons, while its year-to-date production for the steelmaking material reached a new record.
Iron-ore production for the nine-month period increased to 93,72-million tons, compared with the 87,37-million tons recorded in the corresponding period of 2009.
However, while its March quarter's iron-ore output increased, it still lagged that of rival Rio Tinto, which boosted its iron-ore production by 39% in the first three months of the year to 43,4-million tons.
The group also reported a drop in quarterly coal production and weaker copper output.
Iron-ore production was up as a result of the successful delivery of growth projects, the mining company, led by CEO Marius Kloppers, said in its production report.
It reported that the Western Australian Iron-Ore Rapid Growth Project 4 (RGP4) ramp-up was “progressing well”.
However, production in the current quarter was impacted on by weather-related disruptions and project tie-in activities at Western Australia iron-ore.
Output dropped by 4% compared with the December quarter's 32,5-million tons.
The mining giant’s metallurgical coal production also fell by 8% in the March quarter, compared with the previous quarter, to 8,16-million tons.
BHP said that wet weather disruptions at Queensland coal, as well as planned longwall movements at the Illawarra Coal operations, also in Australia, had a negative impact on the quarter’s production.
Cyclone activities resulted in the suspension of shipments from the Hay Point Coal Terminal, and during this period, production was constrained owing to limited stockpile capacity. All mines returned to normal operations by mid-April.
Between March 2009 and March 2010, metallurgical coal production increased by 7%.
BHP’s coal production jumped by 11% in the March quarter to 16,34-million tons, on the back of the continuing ramp-up of the Klipspruit expansion in South Africa, and record output at Hunter Valley in Australia’s New South Wales.
Meanwhile, the company reported that copper production had dropped by 19% in the March quarter, compared with the output in the same period last year.
The miner, which owns copper operations in South America and Australia, produced 229-million tons of the base metal, compared with the 282–million tons produced a year earlier.
The sharp decline was as a result of an incident at the Olympic Dam mine, in Australia, industrial action at the Spence operations in Chile, and lower grades at the Cerro Colorado project, also in Chile, and the Antamina project, in Peru.
The cessation of Pinto Valley, in the US, sulphide mining also impacted on production.
Production during the March quarter was also impacted on by lower grade and safety interventions at Escondida in Chile.
However, BHP said that the successful repair of the Escondida Laguna Seca semi-autogeneous grinding mill, in Chile, during the September quarter, had partially offset the weaker performance.
But while copper production disappointed, the miner reported record nine-month production for some other metals.
Zinc production for the nine months under review topped 152 857 t, compared with the 119 028 t in the previous corresponding period, while 46 597 t were produced in the quarter ended March.
BHP noted that zinc production increased as a result of higher zinc grade and increased plant availability, as well as the use of the Cannington operation, in Australia, and the Antamina operations, in Peru.
Alumina production for the nine months totalled 2,8-million tons, compared with the 2,58-million tons in the comparable period in 2009.
The March quarter’s rose sharply by 24% to 1,02-million tons.
BHP explained that alumina production was higher than all comparative periods owing to the continued ramp-up of the Alumar refinery expansion and the increased volumes from the Worsley operation, in Australia.
The Alumar refinery ramp-up period has been extended and would reach expanded capacity later this calendar year, the miner said.