In BHP’s 2017 Annual Report released last night – available here – on page 19 of 296 under item 3 they write:
We are also continuing to investigate one of the best undeveloped potash resources in the world in Jansen in Canada. There are many ways we could realise the value of this project, but Board approval will be sought only if the project passes our strict investment hurdles and is in the best interests of our shareholders.
On page 64 of 296 they write:
Potash is a potassium-rich salt mainly used in fertiliser to improve the quality and yield of agricultural production. As an essential nutrient for plant growth, potash is a vital link in the global food supply chain. The demands on that supply chain are intensifying; there will be more people to feed in future, as well as rising calorific intake comprised of more varied diets. The strains this will place on finite land supply mean sustainable increases in crop yields will be crucial and potash fertilisers will be critical in replenishing our soils.
However, in the near term, overcapacity is likely to get worse. In the 10 years to 2016, the industry added nearly 27 Mt of annual ’nameplate’ capacity. Further greenfield supply will come on-stream over the next five years. As a result, potash prices are currently at their lowest levels in a decade and are likely to get worse before they get better. Although the near-term outlook may be sombre, we expect the peak of oversupply to occur within the next few years. Positive underlying demand fundamentals, assisted by affordable pricing, should see consumption catch up to capacity in the 2020s. Our projections are that demand for potash will continue to grow at a rate of about two to three per cent per year (compound annual growth rate) and that, even taking into account new projects and latent capacity in the industry, demand will outstrip supply within the next decade.
Potash has the potential to create significant value and provide BHP with an opportunity to capture long-term growth and diversification benefits. Our investment in the Jansen Potash Project presents an opportunity to develop a multi-decade, multi-mine business; a potential fifth major commodity offering for BHP. It is consistent with our strategy to own and operate large, expandable assets that deliver value. However, the Project will be presented to the Board for approval only if it passes our strict Capital Allocation Framework tests.
Jansen Potash Project
BHP holds exploration permits and mining leases covering approximately 9,600 square kilometres in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada. The Jansen Potash Project is located about 140 kilometres east of Saskatoon. We own 100 per cent of this Project. Jansen’s large resource endowment provides the opportunity to develop it in stages, with anticipated initial capacity of 4 Mtpa.
Key developments during FY2017
Over the year, our focus was on the safe excavation and lining of two 7.3 metre diameter shafts. Both shafts were safely excavated through the Blairmore formation (which lies about 450 metres below the surface), with steel tubbing in place to prevent water inflow and provide structural support. By the end of FY2017, the production shaft had reached a depth of approximately 730 metres of the design depth of 975 metres and the service shaft had been excavated to approximately 710 metres of its eventual one-kilometre depth. Capital expenditure in the Jansen Potash Project in FY2017 was US$162 million. During the year, we awarded the detailed engineering design contract studying the feasibility of Jansen Stage 1 to Hatch Bantrel, which formed a joint venture partnership to complete this work.
Jansen is in the feasibility study phase and we continue to assess how we can reduce risk and unlock value. The current scope of work was 70 per cent complete at the end of FY2017. Work on the shafts will continue in FY2018. Once shaft excavation is complete, the shafts will be connected underground and shaft infrastructure will be installed. This falls within the current approved scope of work.
Construction beyond the current scope of work will require Board approval. With a later market window now anticipated, the Jansen Potash Project will not be brought to the Board in CY2018. In the meantime, we are considering multiple options to maximise the value of Jansen, including further improvements to capital efficiency, further optimisation of design and diluting our interest by bringing in a partner. Board approval will be sought for the project only if it passes our strict Capital Allocation Framework tests.