BHP lied to us: Ravensthorpe president

28 Jan, 2009 11:57 AM
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Shire of Ravensthorpe president Brenda Tilbrook.
Shire of Ravensthorpe president Brenda Tilbrook.

The crash in nickel value was only half the story behind last week's sudden closure of the WA's BHP Billiton nickel mine in Ravensthorpe, according to Shire of Ravensthorpe president Brenda Tilbrook.

Nickel is a key component in the production of stainless steel and the price has plummeted in the past 18 months.

The price of nickel dropped from an incredible high of $US50,000 per tonne in May 2007, to a dismal $US9800/t in December 2008.

Ms Tilbrook said the price of nickel was the last straw leading to the mothballing of the BHP mine.

However, she also blamed the design of the mine and its processing plant.

She said there were problems with design "from the start" and BHP had performed poorly in addressing them since it opened last year.

Ms Tilbrook said nickel is a difficult metal to process and the Ravensthorpe facility had proved it was unable to handle the processing complexity, and remain viable.

"The mine was supposed to be a state-of-the-art facility but for the $2.4 billion something BHP spent on it, it would be very disappointed by the result," she said.

"If the plant worked properly in the first place, maybe they could have ridden out the rise and fall in the price of nickel.

"Today the mine is shut but two weeks ago BHP told me it could handle the rises and falls in commodity prices and I believed them.

"BHP lied to me and its workers have been told to lie to me.

"Over the past few weeks I have been telling the media that it's business as usual here.

"I believed that my friends and neighbours would not lie to me, but they have known about the mine closing for a week."

BHP closed the mine at short notice after about eight months in operation.

Earlier confidence in the plan was sold to the locals as a community mine with a 25-30 year life-span.

BHP promised hundreds of jobs for new and existing residents, enticing the State Government to spend $40 million in infrastructure to support the residential project.

Read the full story in this week's Farm Weekly.

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