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Green-light for $900m mine just the start of copper boom, Govt declares

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The State Government is hailing the approval today of Australia’s largest undeveloped copper project – the $916 million Carrapateena mine development – as a “vote of confidence in the South Australian economy”.

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The Gawler Craton project – which will create around 1000 new jobs during construction and 550 ongoing through its operational phase – was green-lit by OZ Minerals, the company controversially convinced to set up headquarters in Adelaide with a $10 million taxpayer-funded lure.

The company said feasibility studies “confirmed the financial robustness of the long life, low cost mine”.

The first phase of the project will kick off next month, with more intensive work to proceed by mid-next year, subject to mining lease approvals, with first production expected in late 2019.

The company today announced board approval for development of the project, which has a net present value of $910 million and a 20 per cent internal rate of return, with pre-production capital expenditure of $916 million.

The copper-gold project lies around 160km north of Port Augusta and 100km southeast of Olympic Dam. It was bought by OZ Minerals in 2011 and its development has been enthusiastically spruiked by the State Government, with Premier Jay Weatherill launching its construction last November.

In its half-year financial results announcement to the stock market this morning, OZ Minerals declared that “the board’s confidence in the economics, constructability and operability of Carrapateena has seen development approval granted for the project”.

“This high quality project with significant expansion potential is proceeding at pace and first concentrate production is expected in [the fourth quarter of] 2019,” the company said.

OZ Minerals reported operating cash flow of $93.5 million in the first half of 2017, supporting “a significant cash balance of $624.5 million with no debt”, allowing for continued investment in the Carrapateena project, as well as in development of its West Musgrave copper and nickel mine in Western Australia.

OZ Minerals CEO Andrew Cole said the decision “will bring jobs, investment and local supplier opportunities into the Upper Spencer Gulf region and beyond”, with around 1000 jobs expected to be created “from construction through to production”.

The company said in a statement it would prioritise local procurement and employment “where possible”.

“The strong support we’ve had from the local community, local government, Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation and pastoralists has been instrumental in getting Carrapateena to this point,” said Cole in a statement.

“We’ll continue our conversations with local people, as we undertake the next phase of investment.”

The project has a projected operating life of 20 years, but Cole said “there is potential to extend its operating life through uncovering potential new deposits in the area”.

That sentiment was echoed by Mineral Resources Minister Tom Koutsantonis, who said: “We are seeing the beginning of what I think will be a very large copper boom throughout SA.”

He hailed OZ Minerals, who shifted to Adelaide in 2015, as “a poster child for how mining should be done”.

OZ Minerals Chairman Neil Hamilton with Premier Jay Weatherill, Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation Chairman Chris Larkin and OZ Minerals CEO Andrew Cole at a site visit. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

Weatherill also heaped praise on the company, calling it “an extraordinary corporate citizen” and declaring “we now see the payoff for pursuing this great Australian mining company here in SA”.

“This is an incredibly exciting day for South Australia, and particularly the Upper Spencer Gulf region and the northern regions of SA,” the Premier said.

“This investment is another vote of confidence in the SA economy.”

Copper, he declared, is “the element of modern living… and we’ve got it in abundance”.

Weatherill said SA was “one of the great copper-producing jurisdictions in the world” and “copper is the element of the 21st century… it’s needed in all these electric cars and ICT systems”.

“Obviously you’ve got a lot of rock on top of it…[they’re] very hard deposits to find and get it,” he said.

“They’re buried under deep cover, and that means they’re hard to get at… but it also means that a lot of jobs are necessary to uncover them, and that’s great news for SA.”

Weatherill said OZ Minerals had not been dissuaded by SA’s energy security concerns.

“The company have well-advanced plans about how they’re going to grapple with their power needs,” he said.

“They’re a company that has the capacity to meet their own power needs, or indeed take it from the grid and they’ll make their own judgements about that as this mine site gets up and running [but] they’re confident that they’ll be able to meet their power needs.”

The mine will also net the State Government around $30 million a year in mining royalties.

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