BHP Billiton and its partners have committed $US917 million ($A866 million) to a port project that could increase its Western Australian iron ore exports by 100 million tonnes each year.
The funds are for an outer harbour development at Port Hedland that would include a four-kilometre jetty, a four-berth wharf, 32 kilometres of dredged departure channel and infrastructure such as stockyards and a rail spur.
BHP's share of the project is US$779 million whle its partners, Itochu Minerals and Energy of Australia, Mitsui-Itochu Iron and Mitsui Iron Ore Corporation, have also committed funds to the project, taking the total value to $US917 million.
BHP said company said the projectis expected to be reviewed for full approval in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2012, has an option to expand by a further 100 million tonnes per year.
The funds approved will enable the company to progress feasibility studies and the procurement of long lead time items. It will also allow for dredging to begin, subject to the necessary regulatory approvals.
In parallel with this work, engineering studies are underway to match mine and rail expansions to the expanded port capacity.
BHP president Iron Ore Ian Ashby said: “This investment is an important first step in providing the infrastructure to allow us to fully develop our world class resource base in the Pilbara. The development of the outer harbour is pivotal for our longer term growth objectives and this initial funding is rapidly turning those plans into a reality.”