PERTH (miningweekly.com) − The world’s largest diversified miner BHP Billiton on Wednesday reported record half-year production from its Western Australian iron-ore portfolio, with annualised output climbing to some 178-million tons.
This was a 25% increase on the previous corresponding period.
BHP produced 80.64-million tons of iron-ore in the six months to the end of December, with second-quarter output rising to 41.07-million tons.
Rival Rio Tinto produced 65-million tons of iron-ore in the December quarter.
BHP reported that it had experienced consistently strong operating performance from its Western Australian iron-ore operations, with the ramp-up of the ore handling plant at Yandi, dual tracking of the company’s rail infrastructure, and additional ship loading capacity at Port Hedland all contributing to the record performance.
The miner noted that iron-ore production in the second half of the year would be affected by the scheduled maintenance, tie-in activities, as well as the wet season in the Pilbara, but said full-year output was still forecast to marginally exceed the prior guidance of 159-million tons a year.
Meanwhile, half-year production records were also achieved at the New South Wales energy coal operations, in Australia, at the Cerrejon operation, in Colombia, and two of BHP’s high-value, export-orientated energy coal operations.
BHP produced some 35.3-million tons of energy coal during the six months to December, with 16.9-million tons produced during the three months to December.
The increased production in Australia and Colombia was, however, mitigated by unfavourable mining conditions and an industrial dispute in South Africa, along with the suspension of operations at the San Juan mine, in the US, which resulted in lower production levels, relative to the September quarter.
Australian metallurgical coal volumes for the December quarter also remained below capacity as a result of stoppages associated with the ongoing labour negotiations and the remnant effects of wet weather.
In addition, BHP noted that geotechnical issues at the Gregory Crinum longwall operation also adversely affected production in the quarter under review.
The Illawarra operations increased production during the first half of the year, following successful longwall moves at Dendrobium and Appin in the June quarter. However, volumes were lower than the September quarter, as planned shut-down of the West Cliff coal handing preparation plant was undertaken in readiness for the plant upgrade commissioning.
A longwall move and plant shut-down at Dendrobuim was scheduled for the March quarter this year.
Meanwhile, BHP also reported on Wednesday petroleum production increased by some 36% during the six months ended December, following the acquisition of the Fayetteville and Petrohawk onshore US businesses and strong uptime performances from existing operating assets.
BHP produced some 109.38-million barrels of oil equivalent during the half year, with 57.98-million barrels produced over the three months to December.
Liquid volumes also increased marginally from the September quarter, to reach 22.2-million barrels of oil equivalent, as production from the onshore US portfolio was added, along with the development drilling at the Shenzi field and high uptime at Atlantis offset anticipated field decline.
The miner said that the contribution from the onshore US portfolio resulted in an 8% increase in natural gas liquids production in the six months to December, although anticipated field decline and the temporary shut-down of the nonoperated Mad Dog facility resulted in lower overall liquids production, relative to the prior corresponding period.
The Mad Dog facility was expected to remain shut down until the June quarter of this year.
BHP also reported a strong recovery in production across its base metals portfolio, which delivered a 27% increase in copper volumes, compared with the previous quarter.
BHP produced some 280 300 t of copper during the quarter under review, as its Escondida operation, in Chile, increased the average daily mill throughput after operations recovered from the industrial action which affected production in the previous quarter.
In addition, the Olympic Dam operation, in Australia, also benefitted from higher grades and improved smelter availability, following the planned outage in the September quarter.
The expansion of mining fleets at Antamina, in Peru, and Pampa Norte, in Chile, also contributed to half-year material mined records for both assets.
Consistent with prior guidance, Escondida production was forecast to be marginally lower in the 2012 financial year, with volumes weighted to the second half, BHP said. Production was expected to improve beyond 2012 as mining activities progressed towards higher-grade ore with completion of the Escondida ore access project in the main pit.
Meanwhile, lead production reached 66 992 t during the quarter under review, and 122 651 t during the six months to December. Zinc production, in turn, reached 28 298 t during the quarter and 51 742 t during the half year.