BHP axes nickel operations in Western Australia

BHP Billiton Ltd. (ASX:BHP), the world’s largest mining company and the fourth-largest nickel producer, announced today that is decreasing mining operations at its West Australian locations by 30 percent.

The decision follows continuing weakness in global nickel prices, headwinds from the high Australian dollar and follows veiled warnings from BHP in its recent quarterly results that nickel and aluminum businesses were struggling.

In a statement sent to media outlets, company spokeswoman Kelly Quirke said that over 150 workers and contractors might be laid off and the mining rate at Mt. Keith (in the photo) would be slowed down for at least a year.

BHP said that stockpiled ore would be used to produce nickel concentrate in the short term, keeping output at close to existing levels.

The miner fell 1.5 percent to A$36.91 at the close of Sydney trading, compared with a 0.9 percent decline in the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index.

This announcement may be one of the first pops to the Australian mining boom, believe experts, as this is the most significant job cut in the sector since 2008, when the global financial crisis was in full swing, reports The Australian.

BHP Billiton also produces nickel at the Cerro Matoso operation in Colombia, according to its website.

The Nickel West operations include the Mt Keith and Leinster mines, concentrators, a smelter and a refinery. BHP produced 50,800 metric tons of nickel from the operations in 2011, according to a regulatory filing.

The restructure in nickel came as BHP exited the titanium minerals industry altogether, selling its 37 per cent interest in South African mineral sands play Richards Bay Minerals.

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