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The South Flank site. Image: BHP

BHP has officially opened its $4.6 billion South Flank iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, celebrating the completion of the project’s five-year journey on time and budget.

In 2016, the company began planning for a new operation to potentially replace its ageing Yandi iron ore mine, with environmental documents opened to the public in June of that year.

South Flank began gathering pace in 2017 when Decmil secured a $13 million contract with BHP for initial works at the proposed development.

The project scope included civil and enabling works at the Mulla Mulla village, which required expansion to support operations at Mining Area C and the South Flank project.

Contract mining and earthworks provider MACA secured a three-year contract to become a crushing and screening provider for BHP in May the following year.

BHP turned the first sod at the site a year later in July after the project received approval from the Western Australia Government.

In December, 2019, Mammoet started transporting the first heavy components for BHP’s South Flank iron ore project in the Pilbara region, Western Australia.

BHP used Mammoet trailers to move approximately 1900 items, including prefabricated and modular mine processing plant units across 340 kilometres from Port Hedland to the new site.

BHP contractor Fluor Corporation commenced the construction of the ore handling plant in the South Flank project at the start of January 2020.

Six months later the company held off a portion of mine development in June due to its impact on cultural heritage sites belonging to the Banjima people.

By August last year the company had developed more than three quarters of the South Flank project.

The company advanced its development projects and delivered strong results during the 2020 financial year despite the impact of COVID-19.

First ore was delivered at the site in May this year ahead of this week’s official opening with the development creating 9000 direct and indirect jobs during construction, and will sustain more than 600 permanent ongoing jobs.

The opening celebrations were attended by Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, Banjima Traditional Owners and joint venture partners, ITOCHU and Mitsui.

The 80 million tonne per annum (Mtpa) site is the largest iron ore mine Australia has seen in over 50 years and combines with BHP’s Mining Area C to be the largest iron ore hub in the world – producing a combined 145Mtpa.

BHP Western Australia iron ore (WAIO) asset president Brandon Craig said South Flank is BHP’s most technically advanced mine.

“It will sustain more than 600 ongoing jobs, plus opportunities for hundreds of local businesses and billions of dollars in royalties to Western Australia,” Craig said

“South Flank’s product has high lump content and increases the quality of BHP’s blended products for steelmaking customers, improving blast furnace efficiency and supporting decarbonisation efforts.

“South Flank’s premium iron ore will be shipped to global steel producers to build electricity, transport and urban infrastructure around the world over the next 25 years.”