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BHP announces operational review for year ended June 30, 2021

Jul 20, 2021 (MarketLine via COMTEX) --

BHP has announced operational review for year ended June 30, 2021.

Record production was achieved at Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) and Goonyella. Olympic Dam achieved both the highest annual copper production since the acquisition by BHP in 2005 and the highest gold production ever for the operation. Escondida maintained average concentrator throughput at record levels despite a challenging operating environment in Chile as a result of impacts from   COVID-19.Petroleum production for the 2021 financial year was slightly above guidance. Full year production guidance for copper, iron ore, metallurgical coal and nickel were delivered, as was revised guidance for energy coal.Full year unit cost guidance(1) expected to be achieved for WAIO, Escondida and Queensland Coal (based on exchange rates of AUD/USD 0.70 and USD/CLP 769). Petroleum unit costs are expected to be slightly better than guidance. New South Wales Energy Coal (NSWEC) unit costs are expected to be marginally above guidance.During the year, we successfully achieved first production at four major development projects, all of which were delivered on or ahead of schedule and on budget. The South Flank iron ore project in Western Australia and the Ruby oil and gas project in Trinidad and Tobago both achieved first production in May 2021. The Atlantis Phase 3 petroleum project and the Spence Growth Option copper project achieved first production in the first half of the 2021 financial year.In exploration, we have continued to add to our early stage options in future facing commodities throughout the year, with the signing of an agreement for a nickel exploration alliance in Canada and of a farm-in agreement for the Elliott copper project in Australia. At Oak Dam in South Australia, next stage resource definition drilling to inform future design commenced in May 2021.The financial results for the second half of the 2021 financial year are expected to reflect certain items as summarised. Summary

BHP Chief Executive Officer, Mike Henry:

"BHP safely delivered another year of excellent operational performance and its second consecutive financial year with zero fatalities at our operated assets. We set several production records and brought on four major projects safely, on schedule and on budget.

This strong performance is a reflection of the capability and commitment of our employees and contractors, the strength of our systems and the support of our business partners.

We achieved production records at our Western Australia Iron Ore operations and the Goonyella Riverside metallurgical coal mine in Queensland. We maintained all-time high concentrator throughput at our Escondida copper mine in Chile. Olympic Dam in South Australia had its highest annual copper production since BHP acquired the asset in 2005, and its best-ever gold production.

South Flank, the largest and one of the most technically-advanced iron ore mines in Australia, began production in May and will boost the overall quality of BHP's iron ore product suite. In the same month, the Ruby project in Trinidad and Tobago started production. Atlantis Phase 3 in the Gulf of Mexico and the Spence expansion in Chile began production in the first half of the year.

BHP is in great shape. Our operations are performing well, we continue our track record of disciplined capital allocation, and our portfolio is positively leveraged to the megatrends of decarbonisation, electrification and population growth."

Major development projects

During the year, we successfully achieved first production at four major development projects, all of which were delivered on or ahead of schedule and on budget.

The Atlantis Phase 3 petroleum project and the Spence Growth Option copper project achieved first production in the first half of the 2021 financial year.

During the June 2021 quarter, the South Flank iron ore sustaining project in Western Australia and the Ruby oil and gas project in Trinidad and Tobago achieved first production. Given this, South Flank and Ruby project progress will not be reported in future Operational Reviews.

At the end of the 2021 financial year, BHP had two major projects under development in petroleum (Mad Dog Phase 2) and potash (Jansen mine shafts), with both of these tracking to plan.

The Jansen Stage 1 project in Canada remains on track for a go or no-go decision in the next two months.

Corporate update

On 28 June 2021, BHP announced that it had signed a Sale and Purchase Agreement with Glencore to divest its 33.3 per cent interest in Cerrejón, a non-operated energy coal joint venture in Colombia, for US$294 million cash consideration. Subject to the satisfaction of customary competition and regulatory requirements, we expect completion to occur in the second half of the 2022 financial year. The transaction has an effective economic date of 31 December 2020. The purchase price is subject to adjustments at transaction completion, including for any dividends paid by Cerrejón to BHP during the period from signing to completion. A further impairment charge related to Cerrejón of approximately US$85 million post tax will be recognised as an exceptional item in the financial results for the second half of the 2021 financial year. For the 2021 financial year, BHP will continue to report Cerrejón, including the impairment charge, in its Income Statement within profit/(loss) from equity accounted investments. It will continue to be reported within our Coal segment and asset tables. On the Balance Sheet, it will be reclassified as an asset held for sale. Beyond the 2021 financial year, BHP expects the sale of Cerrejón to complete with no net impact on BHP's Income Statement and, as a result, we would no longer report it in our Coal segment or asset tables.

The broader carrying value assessment of the Group's assets is ongoing with a particular focus on Jansen and NSWEC, and will be finalised in conjunction with the release of the financial results on 17 August 2021.

On 9 April 2021, Samarco announced that it filed for judicial reorganisation (JR) with the Commercial Courts of Belo Horizonte, State of Minas Gerais, Brazil (JR Court). On 12 April 2021, the JR Court accepted the case and appointed four judicial administrators. On 5 July 2021, the judicial administrators filed a revised list of creditors with the JR Court, which kept shareholders' claims as listed by Samarco, with the Renova Foundation not listed as a creditor. This excludes the Renova Foundation's funding and programs from the JR. The revised list of creditors is not final as it is still open to discussion before the JR court. The JR is a means for Samarco to restructure its financial debts in order to establish a sustainable independent financial position for Samarco to continue to rebuild its operations safely and meet its Renova Foundation obligations. Samarco's filing follows unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a debt restructure with financial creditors and multiple legal actions filed by those creditors which threaten Samarco's operations. Samarco's operations will continue during the JR and restructure process. The JR does not affect Samarco's obligation or commitment to make full redress for the 2015 Fundão dam failure, and it does not impact Renova Foundation's ability to undertake that remediation and compensation.

In addition, negotiations are ongoing with State and Federal Prosecutors and certain other Brazilian public authorities on the review of the Framework Agreement. The Framework Agreement was entered into between Samarco, Vale and BHP Brasil and the relevant Brazilian authorities in March 2016 and established Foundation Renova to develop and implement environmental and socio-economic programs to remediate and provide compensation for damage caused by the Samarco dam failure.

We will provide an update to the ongoing potential financial impacts on BHP Brasil of the Samarco dam failure with the release of the financial results on 17 August 2021. Any financial impacts will continue to be treated as an exceptional item.

We have continued to take action to support the reduction of value chain greenhouse gas emissions. On 21 April 2021, we announced the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation to become one of the founding members of the Maritime Decarbonisation Centre to be set up in Singapore. The Maritime Decarbonisation Centre will be a focal point for the global maritime industry's efforts in both decarbonisation and innovation, bringing together experts and the industry, including start-ups to develop technologies and co-create innovative solutions. BHP is the only resources company that is part of the alliance.

Average realised prices  

The large majority of oil sales were linked to West Texas intermediate (WTI) or Brent based indices, with differentials applied for quality, locational and transportation costs. The large majority of iron ore shipments were linked to index pricing for the month of shipment, with price differentials predominantly a reflection of market fundamentals and product quality. Iron ore sales were based on an average moisture rate of 7.3 per cent. The large majority of metallurgical coal and energy coal exports were linked to index pricing for the month of shipment or sold on the spot market at fixed or index-linked prices, with price differentials reflecting product quality. The majority of copper cathodes sales were linked to index price for quotation periods one month after month of shipment, and three to four months after month of shipment for copper concentrates sales with price differentials applied for location and treatment costs.

At 30 June 2021, the Group had 323 kt of outstanding copper sales that were revalued at a weighted average price of US$4.25 per pound. The final price of these sales will be determined in the 2022 financial year. In addition, 304 kt of copper sales from the 2020 financial year were subject to a finalisation adjustment in the current period. The provisional pricing and finalisation adjustments will increase Underlying EBITDA(2) by US$47 million in the 2021 financial year and are included in the average realised copper price in the above table.

Petroleum

Petroleum - Total petroleum production decreased by six per cent to 103 MMboe, with volumes slightly above the top end of our guidance range. Production is expected to be between 99 and 106 MMboe in the 2022 financial year, reflecting a full year of the additional 28 per cent working interest acquired in Shenzi, increased production at Shenzi from infill wells and increased volumes from Ruby following first production in May 2021, offset by natural field decline across the portfolio.

Crude oil, condensate and natural gas liquids production decreased by six per cent to 46 MMboe due to natural field decline across the portfolio, a highly active hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico in the first half of the year and downtime at Atlantis, with tie-in activity in the first half of the year and unplanned downtime in the March 2021 quarter. These impacts were partially offset by the earlier than scheduled achievement of first production from the Atlantis Phase 3 project in July 2020 and the additional working interest acquired in Shenzi, completed on 6 November 2020.

Natural gas production decreased by five per cent to 341 bcf, reflecting planned shutdowns at Angostura related to the Ruby tie-in, lower gas demand at Bass Strait and natural field decline across the portfolio. The decline was partially offset by improved reliability at Bass Strait and higher domestic gas sales at Macedon.

The Bass Strait West Barracouta project achieved first production in April 2021, on schedule and budget.

In May 2021, we completed a transaction with EnVen Energy Ventures, LLC to transfer our 35 per cent ownership interest in the operated Neptune field in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the June 2021 quarter, drilling commenced on the second Shenzi infill well. Drilling of the first Shenzi infill well took place in March 2021, with production expected from both infill wells in the 2022 financial year. The successful acquisition of an increased working interest in Shenzi in November 2020 realises further value from the continued Shenzi development.

The Mad Dog Phase 2 project achieved a major milestone in April 2021 as the semi-submersible floating production platform, Argos, arrived in the US from South Korea. First production from Mad Dog Phase 2 is expected in the middle of the 2022 calendar year.

Petroleum exploration

No exploration and appraisal wells were drilled during the June 2021 quarter.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Transocean drilling rig (Development Driller III) arrived on location in our Northern licences in June 2021 and is preparing to commence drilling of two Calypso gas appraisal wells in July 2021.

Petroleum exploration expenditure for the 2021 financial year was US$322 million, of which US$296 million was expensed. Our exploration spend for the full year is lower than guidance due to changes in appraisal well phasing from the June 2021 quarter to the September 2021 quarter.

Copper 

Copper - Total copper production decreased by five per cent to 1,636 kt. Production for the 2022 financial year is expected to be between 1,590 and 1,760 kt.

For the 2021 financial year, our Chilean assets operated with a substantial reduction in their operational workforces as a result of the preventative measures we implemented to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In the June 2021 quarter, escalating COVID-19 infections in Chile led to increased pressures on Chile's health system, which resulted in strict quarantine measures and border restrictions. We expect the operating environment for our Chilean assets to remain challenging, with reductions in our on-site workforce forecast to continue in the 2022 financial year.

Escondida copper production decreased by 10 per cent to 1,068 kt as continued strong concentrator throughput of 371 ktpd, at record levels, was more than offset by the impact of expected lower concentrator feed grade and lower cathode production. This was slightly above the upper end of our increased guidance range as a result of improved maintenance practices and strong mine equipment performance. Concentrator throughput continued to be prioritised over cathode production in the June 2021 quarter as part of an effort to offset the impact of the reduced operational workforce. Production of between 1,000 and 1,080 kt is expected for the 2022 financial year and reflects a continuing need to catch up on mine development due to reduced material movement in the 2021 financial year, as well as uncertainty around COVID-19 impacts. Decline in the copper grade of concentrator feed in the 2022 financial year is expected to be approximately two per cent. Guidance of an annual average of 1.2 Mt of copper production over the next five years remains unchanged, with production expected to be weighted towards the latter years.

On 1 April 2021, Escondida successfully completed negotiations for a new collective agreement that applies to the Intermel Union of Operators and Maintainers, effective for 24 months from 1 April 2021. Escondida's collective agreement with Union No1 of Operators and Maintainers expires on 1 August 2021 and negotiations commenced in June 2021.

Pampa Norte copper production decreased by 10 per cent to 218 kt largely due to a decline in stacking feed grade at Spence of 11 per cent , planned maintenance at Spence and the impact of a reduced operational workforce as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. This was slightly lower than guidance due to continued COVID-19 related impacts on the ramp-up of the Spence Growth Option (SGO). Production for the 2022 financial year is expected to increase by more than 50 per cent to between 330 and 370 kt, reflecting the continued ramp-up of SGO, partially offset by a forecast  decline in stacking feed grade at Pampa Norte of approximately nine per cent. The ramp-up to full production capacity at SGO is still expected to take approximately 12 months from first production in December 2020, following which Spence is forecast to average 300 ktpa of production (including cathodes) over the first four years of operation.

On 10 June 2021, Spence successfully completed negotiations for a new collective agreement that applies to the Union of Operators and Maintainers, effective for 36 months from 1 June 2021.

On 7 June 2021, we completed negotiations for an extension of the current agreement with the Specialists and Supervisors Union of BHP Chile (comprising mainly employees from the Centre of Integrated Operations in Santiago that services Escondida and Spence), effective for 18 months from 1 June 2021.

Olympic Dam copper production increased by 20 per cent to 205 kt, the highest annual production achieved since our acquisition in 2005, reflecting improved smelter stability and strong underground mine performance. Olympic Dam also achieved record gold production of 146 koz. Commissioning of the refinery crane is now complete. Production for the 2022 financial year is expected to decrease to between 140 and 170 kt as a result of the planned major smelter maintenance campaign and subsequent ramp up planned between August 2021 and February 2022.

Antamina copper production increased 16 per cent to 144 kt and zinc production increased 64 per cent to a record 145 kt, reflecting both higher copper and zinc head grades. Copper production of between 120 and 140 kt, and zinc production of between 115 and 130 kt is expected for the 2022 financial year.

Iron Ore

Iron ore - Total iron ore production increased by two per cent to 254 Mt.  Production of between 249 and 259 Mt is expected in the 2022 financial year.

WAIO production increased by one per cent to a record 252 Mt (284 Mt on a 100 per cent basis), reflecting record production at Jimblebar and Mining Area C, which included first ore from South Flank in May 2021. This was achieved despite significant weather impacts, temporary rail labour shortages due to COVID-19 related border restrictions and the planned Mining Area C and South Flank major tie-in activity. Strong operational performance across the supply chain reflected continued improvements in car dumper performance and reliability, and train cycle times.

Yandi resource has commenced its end-of-life ramp-down as South Flank ramps up, and is expected to continue to provide supply chain flexibility with a lower level of production to continue for a few years.

Production of between 246 and 255 Mt (278 and 288 Mt on a 100 per cent basis) is expected for the 2022 financial year as WAIO continues to focus on incremental volume growth through productivity improvements. We continue with our program to further improve port reliability and this includes a major maintenance campaign on car dumper one planned for the September 2021 quarter.

Samarco production was 1.9 Mt following the recommencement of iron ore pellet production at one concentrator in December 2020. Production of between 3 and 4 Mt (BHP share) is expected for the 2022 financial year. Production capacity of approximately 8 Mtpa (100 per cent basis) is expected to be reached in the second half of the 2022 financial year.

South Flank will ramp up to full production capacity of 80 Mtpa (100 per cent basis) over three years. South Flank's high quality ore will increase WAIO's average iron ore grade from 61 to 62 per cent, and the overall proportion of lump from 25 to between 30 and 33 per cent, once fully ramped up.

Coal

Metallurgical coal - Metallurgical coal production decreased by one per cent to 41 Mt (73 Mt on a 100 per cent basis), in line with original guidance. Production is expected to be between 39 and 44 Mt (70 and 78 Mt on a 100 per cent basis) in the 2022 financial year as we expect restrictions on coal imports into China to remain for a number of years. Production is expected to be weighted to the second half of the year due to planned wash plant maintenance in the first half of the year.

At Queensland Coal, strong underlying operational performance, including record production at Goonyella facilitated by record tonnes from Broadmeadow mine, was offset by significant wet weather impacts across most operations earlier in the year, as well as planned wash plant maintenance at Saraji and Caval Ridge in the first half of the year. At South Walker Creek, despite record stripping, production decreased as a result of higher strip ratios due to ongoing impacts from geotechnical constraints and lower yields.

Energy coal - Energy coal production decreased by 17 per cent to 19 Mt. Production is expected to decrease to between 13 and 15 Mt in the 2022 financial year, reflecting the announced divestment of our interest in Cerrejón in June 2021 and that Cerrejón volumes will now be separately reported from 1 July 2021 until transaction completion.

NSWEC production decreased by 11 per cent to 14 Mt despite increased stripping. This decrease reflects significant weather impacts and higher strip ratios, as well as lower volumes due to an increased proportion of washed coal in response to widening price quality differentials, consistent with our strategy to focus on higher quality products, and reduced port capacity following damage to a shiploader at the Newcastle port in November 2020. The shiploader is expected to be back in operation during the September 2021 quarter. Production is expected to be between 13 and 15 Mt in the 2022 financial year reflecting a continued focus on higher quality products.

Cerrejón production decreased by 30 per cent to 5 Mt mainly as a result of a 91-day strike in the first half of the year and subsequent delays to the restart of production, as well as the impact of a reduced operational workforce due to COVID-19 restrictions. On 28 June 2021, BHP announced it had signed a Sale and Purchase Agreement with Glencore to divest its 33.3 per cent interest in Cerrejón. The transaction has an effective economic date of 31 December 2020. Subject to the satisfaction of customary competition and regulatory requirements, we expect completion to occur in the second half of the 2022 financial year.

Other

Nickel - Nickel West production increased by 11 per cent to 89 kt reflecting strong performance from the new mines and improved operational stability following major quadrennial maintenance shutdowns in the prior year. Production is expected to be between 85 and 95 kt in the 2022 financial year, with planned maintenance in the September 2021 quarter. First production from the Nickel Sulphate plant expected in the September 2021 quarter.

Potash - Final negotiations on the port solution are progressing. The Jansen Stage 1 project in Canada remains on track for a go or no-go decision in the next two months.

Minerals exploration

Minerals exploration expenditure for the 2021 financial year was US$192 million, of which US$134 million was expensed. Greenfield minerals exploration is predominantly focused on advancing copper targets in Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Canada, Australia and the south-west United States, and nickel targets are being advanced in Canada and Australia.

We have continued to add to our early stage options in future facing commodities throughout the year. We have a signed agreement for a nickel exploration alliance with Midland Exploration in Canada (August 2020) and we have exercised our option to sign a farm-in agreement with Encounter Resources for the Elliott copper project in Australia (May 2021).

Drilling for copper targets is underway in Chile, Ecuador, Peru and the United States, while further drilling is anticipated for copper and nickel in Australia during the 2021 calendar year. At Oak Dam in South Australia, next stage resource definition drilling to inform future design commenced in May 2021.

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