Once the underground expansions are completed, Oyu Tolgoi is expected produce more than 500,000 tonnes of copper per year. Initial projections estimated that the mine would be able to sustainably produce copper from 2021 onwards. However, last December, Rio Tinto pushed the timeline back and said “sustainable production” was expected to commence in October 2022. The miner also said the underground expansion would cost $6.75 billion, higher than previous estimates.
On Friday, Rio Tinto again delayed that forecast and said sustainable production will happen “no earlier than January 2023.”
The company cited the impact of Covid-19 and outstanding issues around caving operations. It warned that Mongolia’s additional Covid-19 restrictions this year to tackle community transmission is set to add an estimated $140 million to the budget as of the end of September. While Rio Tinto blamed the delays and rising costs on challenging ground conditions, an independent review this year contradicted that explanation.
The Independent Consulting Group’s report, commissioned by Rio Tinto’s partners on the project, concluded that poor management was the main reason the mine’s underground expansion was running almost two years late and $1.45 billion over budget, the Financial Times reported.
The open-pit and underground mining project is being jointly developed by the government, which owns about 34% of Oyu Tolgoi, and Rio Tinto’s Canadian subsidiary Turquoise Hill Resources that has a 66% stake in it. The Anglo-Australian miner owns nearly 51% stake in Turquoise Hill Resources.