BHP Billiton's Nickel West boss Paul Harvey has moved to reassure its staff the division still has a future despite the giant finally admitting yesterday it has Nickel West up for due diligence investigations by potential buyers.
BHP confirmed the worst-kept secret in the mining industry, formally revealing it was considering the sale of "all or parts of the business". That includes its Mt Keith, Cliffs and Leinster mines and associated concentrators, plus the Kalgoorlie smelter, Kambalda concentrator and Kwinana nickel refinery.
Mr Harvey told Nickel West staff they could shortly expect to see potential buyers touring the operations.
But in an email to staff seen by _WestBusiness _, Mr Harvey also moved to reassure staff that no final decision had been made on a sale and despite the looming production issues caused by last year's closure of the Perseverance underground mine on safety grounds, Nickel West still had a future within BHP if a substantial offer was not made.
"We will only pursue options that maximise value for shareholders and any potential course of action remains subject to a detailed analysis of the options before a final decision is made," he said.
While the closure of Perseverance has left BHP short of ore with low magnesium to iron levels, which is needed to keep down costs at its Kalgoorlie smelter, Mr Harvey told staff a recent business review had also "opened a pathway to future possibilities".
While BHP has long flagged its reluctance to make significant new investments in Nickel West, this year's resurgent nickel price may have caused a rethink.
Mr Harvey hinted the review could even have put new mines back on the agenda if BHP retained the asset, naming both its emerging Venus deposit and the low-grade Yakabindie deposit among the future possibilities.
Glencore Xstrata boss Ivan Glasenberg has previously expressed an interest in "kicking the tyres" of Nickel West and is seen as the most likely buyer, along with Mick Davis' X2 Resources and China's Jinchuan Group.
BHP shares closed up 34Â¢ yesterday to $38.40.