BHP Billiton celebrated the opening of its Jimblebar mine and processing hub in the Pilbara today, five months after safety issues at Newman Airport delayed the original scheduled opening in November last year.
Premier Colin Barnett, who attended today's opening ceremony, said the $US3.6 billion project had achieved first production six months ahead of schedule and would deliver an additional 35 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of iron ore, with the capacity to expand to 55mtpa.
It expands BHP's Pilbara supply chain capacity to more than 220mtpa.
He said as part of an agreement with the Nyiyaparli people, the traditional owners of the land on which Jimblebar was located, BHP would also provide training, employment and contracting opportunities for Aboriginal people.
The project was jointly funded by BHP and Japanese partners ITOCHU Corporation and Mitsui.
"The construction workforce for this project peaked at almost 2500 people and ongoing operations will generate another 1000 jobs," Mr Barnett said.
BHP's iron ore president Jimmy Wilson said extensive planning and research went into designing Jimblebar's mining operation, with productivity measures and technology central to the design plan.
"Mobile crib rooms and fuelling stations have been positioned closer to the mine pits so our trucks and equipment spend more time moving earth and less time travelling or parked out of action," he said.
"Our pursuit of productivity gains and operational excellence is delivering significant value at Western Australia iron ore.
"The business is now well positioned to deliver high margin volume growth at a substantially lower cost.
"We are also pleased to announce we are extending our Jimblebar autonomous truck trial to the neighbouring Wheelarra operations using six Caterpillar 793-F trucks in the second trial."
The Jimblebar project includes a new fleet of earthmoving equipment, the duplication of the rail line from the main line to the Jimblebar hub, a new stockyard with four million tonne capacity, a new primary crusher and a new ore handling plant.
Other infrastructure includes mobile equipment and fixed plant workshops, fuel storage and distribution facilities, water and waste treatment plants, administration buildings and a state-of-the-art accommodation village.
The official opening of Jimblebar was originally scheduled for November 25 last year but an unsafe tarmac at Newman Airport forced the ceremony to be postponed until today.
BHP shares were up 15 cents to $38.16 shortly before the close of trade in a broadly firmer market.