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BHP Billiton today announced the Olympic Dam Project (ODP) in South Australia has progressed into the Feasibility study phase.

The decision comes ahead of the pending release of ODP's Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and the start of the formal assessment of the project by the Commonwealth, South Australian and Northern Territory governments.

BHP Billiton Uranium President, Dean Dalla Valle, said the project's progression into Feasibility followed the release of its Draft Environmental Statement in May 2009 and the subsequent assessment of the more than 4,000 public submissions received on a range of issues.

"The EIS team spent more than a year preparing answers to all the issues raised in the submissions and submitted this information along with additional studies in its SEIS which was handed to the Commonwealth for an adequacy test in December 2010.

"We are now awaiting permission from the Commonwealth to publish the SEIS, which will allow formal assessment of the project by the respective governments."

The ODP aims to develop a new open pit copper mine and associated gold and uranium byproducts alongside its existing underground operation and increase its production from around 180,000 tonnes per annum of copper to 750,000 tonnes per annum over the next 30 years.

If approved, the project will generate significant new employment opportunities for South Australia in terms of direct employment, construction jobs, and additional flow-on employment across the state.

Independent economic analysis of the project's impact on South Australia's economy estimates it will add more than A$45 billion to the Gross State Product over the life of the mine.

"The scale of this project will allow the company to continue to invest heavily in South Australian businesses and services, especially in the Upper Spencer Gulf region of Whyalla and Port Augusta," said Mr Dalla Valle.

"As part of the project the company will invest around A$20 million over the next 10 years in supporting indigenous communities and more than A$20 million in community investment as well as major environmental land management and water conservation programs across 21,000 km2 of arid lands," he said.

A final decision on the project by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments is expected in the second half of this year.

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