Min­ing ex­press switches to cruise

Pilbara News - - News - Peter Wil­liams The reporter vis­ited the Pil­bara cour­tesy of the Cham­ber of Mines and En­ergy and the Min­er­als Coun­cil of Aus­tralia.

At 6.30am a long line of minibuses are dis­gorg­ing a steady stream of work­ers in soiled high-vis at War­rawandu Vil­lage.

It is knock-off time for the night­shift crews of BHP Bil­li­ton’s iron ore mines east of New­man.

The FIFO men and women head for their rooms af­ter a long night on the yel­low gear or the tools.

There have been no trips back to camp for meal breaks dur­ing the 12-hour shift. As part of a pro­duc­tiv­ity drive, man­age­ment at the two-year-old mine has de­ployed mo­bile crib rooms to cut out the some­times 40-minute round trip.

While War­rawandu boasts im­pres­sive recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties, the FIFO life is not for ev­ery­one. But liv­ing in a re­mote Pil­bara town doesn’t ap­peal to all, ei­ther.

When BHP of­fered 150 East­ern Ridge mine work­ers stay­ing at War­rawandu the chance to re­side in nearby New­man, only 15 ex­pressed in­ter­est. Five have moved into com­pany homes.

“It was some­what sur­pris­ing, the level was quite low in terms of in­ter­est,” Jim­ble­bar gen­eral man­ager An­drew Buck­ley says.

The re­sponse does not ap­pear to be the re­sult the Na­tion­als WA would have been hop­ing for af­ter press­ing BHP to close its Kurra Vil­lage FIFO camp near New­man.

Mr Buck­ley says that, apart from about 160 work­ers who will stay at New­man’s Eco Vil­lage and com­pany-owned flats, the clo­sure of 1600bed Kurra will see most its oc­cu­pants housed fur­ther out of town.

“While the head­line might look fan­tas­tic, the re­al­ity is not ac­tu­ally the best out­come,” he said.

“It’s com­mer­cially great (for BHP) but not great in terms of peo­ple ac­tu­ally be­ing in town and spend­ing money.”

He said the re­sources gi­ant would have spent $5 mil­lion to $7 mil­lion up­grad­ing Kurra if the lease was re­newed.

“On top of that, the coun­cil loses about $500,000 a year in rates,” he said.

The min­ing cy­cle is a peren­nial is­sue for towns such as New­man. The town’s pop­u­la­tion of 6000 is about half what is was about five years ago. A three-bed­room home now rents for $350 to $500 a week, com­pared with $1500 to $2000 in the boom times.

New­man may no longer be a com­pany-owned town, but the BHP foot­print is ev­ery­where.

A $30 mil­lion shop­ping cen­tre near­ing com­ple­tion was bankrolled by the miner.

In­dus­try fig­ures ar­gue that, in­stead of a bust, iron ore min­ing has sim­ply made a tran­si­tion from con­struc­tion to op­er­a­tion.

Em­ployee num­bers might be lower, but the work is more sta­ble and long term. BHP peo­ple will tell you there is 100 years worth of ore left at its Pil­bara op­er­a­tions.

The iron ore price may be a frac­tion of the boom years, and midtier min­ers such as At­las Iron have been strug­gling, but the ma­jors are ship­ping more ore than ever.

That’s be­cause of new mines crank­ing up and ex­pan­sions of ex­ist­ing ones.

BHP’s new­est $US3.2 bil­lion ($4.2 bil­lion) Jim­ble­bar mine has been op­er­at­ing for two years with a work­force of about 1000.

Gina Rine­hart’s new Roy Hill mine is ramp­ing up to­wards reach­ing name­plate pro­duc­tion next year. Chief ex­ec­u­tive Barry Fitzger­ald says the num­ber of work­ers punch­ing the clock is ex­pected to rise from 1300 now to 2000.

Af­ter a trou­bled and drawn-out con­struc­tion pe­riod, CITIC Pa­cific’s Sino Iron mine is op­er­at­ing at Cape Lam­bert with a work­force of about 1000.

Yara’s $US800 mil­lion tech­ni­cal am­mo­nium ni­trate plant on the Bur­rup Penin­sula in the past few months has be­gun pro­duc­ing the ex­plo­sives ma­te­ri­als used for mine site blast­ing. The 500 jobs pro­vided dur­ing con­struc­tion has been win­nowed down to 70.

Con­struc­tion has started on Rio Tinto’s $440 mil­lion Sil­ver­grass project, pro­vid­ing about 500 op­er­a­tional jobs.

The con­struc­tion to op­er­a­tion phase is also un­der way in liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas. The big­gest re­sources project of all, Chevron’s $US54 bil­lion Gor­gon LNG fa­cil­ity on Bar­row Is­land, loaded its first tanker in Fe­bru­ary.

On the main­land, Chevron’s $US29 bil­lion Wheat­stone LNG project near Onslow is close to com­ple­tion, with the first ship­ment tipped for mid-2017.

While Wood­side’s Browse LNG project re­mains in limbo, man­age­ment is tak­ing a look at on­shore and off­shore op­tions.

The State’s old­est LNG as­set, the Wood­side-led 32-year-old North West Shelf project, is un­der­go­ing $500 mil­lion to $700 mil­lion in life­ex­ten­sion work at its Kar­ratha Gas Plant. About 70 per cent of North West Shelf staff are res­i­den­tial.

The oil and gas com­pany owns about 700 homes in Kar­ratha.

Wood­side closed its 2200-bed Gap Ridge ac­com­mo­da­tion vil­lage af­ter Lands Min­is­ter Terry Red­man re­fused to ex­tend the lease be­yond May 2017. Work­ers are housed at four other third party-owned fa­cil­i­ties in Kar­ratha.

Picture: Tom Zaun­mayr

A Rio Tinto train comes in to Parker Point.

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