Ekati is BHP's Canadian jewel
Company has mixed record...

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 15/98) - The monolithic mining company BHP will launch its first foray into diamonds when Ekati starts operations in October.

BHP's internal economy is even larger than several small countries, such as Andorra or Greenland.

As a diversified resources company, BHP employs 61,000 people in 70 countries and has more than 290,000 shareholders in 99 countries.

Its revenue exceeds $20 billion, mostly through four main businesses: minerals, copper, steel and petroleum. Specialized service businesses include transport, engineering, information technology, power and insurance.

One major 1997 highlight was increasing Chilean copper production at its Escondida mine.

Another was installing two new oil and gas platforms in Bass Strait in Australia and achieving further exploration success in Australia, the Australia-Indonesia Zone of Cooperation Area (ZOCA), Papua New Guinea, Bolivia and Algeria.

Even focusing in on Canada, the company is no newcomer.

"BHP Diamonds is our biggest investment in Canada," said local external affairs manager Graham Nicholls.

Another of BHP's Canadian investment is a 12-person office in Calgary performing a feasibility study with Shell Canada on an oil sands projects. And there has been exploration around the Manitoba-Ontario border and several ventures on Vancouver Island.

In the NWT, the company has spent more than 12 years looking for gold. It discovered Ulu, near Lupin, in 1989 and sold the mine to Echo Bay Mines in 1995.

Another NWT gold prospect, Boston, was discovered in the future Nunavut, 700 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife in 1992.

Exploration drilling began immediately and continued through 1995. In 1996, a 13,000-tonne bulk sample was taken from the upper portion of the mineralized zone of the Boston project.

Doris Lake, Madrid and South Patch are three other significant discoveries in the Hope Bay Greenstone Belt, around Boston in the future Nunavut.

Aside from their status as the world's second-largest copper-mining company, BHP is second in iron ore, third in manganese, seventh in coal, 17th in raw steel and 18th in oil.

But company officials stress that, despite maintaining or increasing dividends for the past 56 consecutive years, it is not an exploitive transnational corporation busy pillaging the environment.

Nicholls noted several environmental awards from prospectors and developers associations for a copper mine closure on Vancouver Island.

"It's been hailed as a model," he said in his office atop the Precambrian building.

It's record in Australia on that score is mixed. When scientists discovered that one of its coal mines in New South Wales was leaking methane into a river, the company resisted suggestions to stop work on the responsible coal seam.

According to a report in New Scientist, the fumes were spontaneously catching fire, threatening children playing in the river.

But BHP reportedly is making efforts to change its mining methods to reduce the leak. It is also receiving praise for its approach to research and development in Australia, where BHP is the largest private-sector source of funding for R&D.

For Ekati, BHP has printed environmental handbooks for employees, complete with reminders to preserve delicate soil cover ("by driving only on designated roads"), respect archaeological sites and carefully manage waste among many other tips.

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