BHP reportedly looking at DRC copper project in unexpected strategy shift

BHP is in early discussions with Robert Friedland’s Ivanhoe Mines over the potential acquisition of a vast copper exploration territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to unnamed sources close to the proceedings.

The move for Western Foreland – an exploration zone neighbouring Ivanhoe’s Kamoa-Kakula mine – would mark a significant departure from BHP’s policy of eschewing riskier jurisdictions in years gone by. The company sold its last mining asset in Africa to Friedland in 2019 while choosing to focus on Australia, Canada and Chile.

But during the 18-month tenure of CEO Mike Henry, there has been a gradual recognition amongst the board of the world’s largest miner that some of the best mineral deposits for the global energy transition exist in less stable jurisdictions.

Like many of its peers, BHP has identified copper as a key material for the decarbonisation thematic and expects a surge in demand combined with diminishing supply from the world’s top producer Chile due to declining ore quality and huge investment burdens.

The DRC is the world’s biggest source of cobalt and Africa’s largest copper producer, although corruption in the industry and the ongoing impact of decades of civil conflict continue to mar the country’s investment reputation.

Representatives from BHP and Ivanhoe refused to comment on the reported negotiations for the exploration zone.