Australias’s biggest iron ore producer, Rio Tinto, mined a near-record 332 million tonnes of the steelmaking ingredient in 2023 on the back of a new mine it plans to expand further in 2024.
Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm said total production from the diversified global miner rose 3 per cent in 2023 reflecting the Gudai-Darri mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara hitting full capacity and the rollout of a new mine management system.
The $4.7 billion investment hit a production rate of 43 million tonnes a year within 12 months of commissioning, helping Rio’s iron ore exports reach the upper end of guidance the company gave investors for 2023.
The Anglo-Australian miner’s business is dominated by shipping iron ore from the Pilbara to the steel mills of Asia, which accounted for almost 70 per cent of its revenue in 2022, but last year it finally made substantial progress on developing an alternative in Africa.
Stausholm, speaking on the release of Rio’s December quarter production results on Tuesday, said the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea – which Rio will contribute $6.2 billion to get first production in 2025 – was a “world-class” addition to the company’s portfolio.
In 2020, Rio Tinto destroyed 46,000-year-old Pilbara rock shelters in a mine blast. There were fears of a repeat after another blast dislodged rocks near a registered cultural heritage site, but it afterwards found to be unharmed.
“We continue to work hard to transform our culture and to invest in deep engagement and partnerships with traditional owners,” Stausholm said.
Progress on the Resolution Copper deposit in the US state of Arizona, co-owned with BHP, remains stalled by objections from some Native American groups about damage to a sacred area, Oak Flat.
In Serbia, Rio’s attempts to mine another metal essential to the energy transition – lithium – is also on the backburner.
It continues to consult the community around the Jadar deposit that Stausholm has called a “perfect project” 18 months after it stared work to revive the multibillion-dollar project, which had its permits revoked when it became controversial in the lead-up to a national election.
In addition to its relationships with Indigenous groups where it operated, Rio, like all WA miners, is under scrutiny over the treatment of its workforce after a WA parliament inquiry revealed widespread problems.
The miner said it was implementing all the recommendations of an independent 2022 report into its operations by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick who found systemic bullying, sexism and racism were common and often tolerated or normalised within the company culture.
Its progress will be revealed when Broderick conducts a review this year that Rio plans to make public.
In Rio’s other Australian operations in 2023, bauxite production from its Weipa mine in Queensland and Gove in the NT remained steady at 55 million tonnes, and it started the environmental approval process for the Winu copper-gold deposit in the Pilbara.
Oyu Tolgoi, Rio Tinto’s existing copper mine in Mongolia where it has endured a year of disputes with the government and other investors, received an unexpected $121 million tax bill.
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Source: Thanks smh.com