TORONTO (Reuters) - BHP Billiton said on Tuesday it will move the head office of its diamonds and specialty products unit to Saskatchewan, a move that ties in with the Anglo-Australian miner’s plans to develop the world’s largest potash mine in the Western Canadian province.
BHP’s diamonds and specialty products unit oversees its potash developments in Saskatchewan and its Ekati diamond mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The unit’s head office is currently in Vancouver.
Saskatchewan, which has vast potash resources, is also home to Potash Corp the world’s biggest miner of the crop nutrient. Last year, BHP made a $39 billion takeover bid for Potash Corp that was rejected by the Canadian government as not being of net benefit to the country.
Brad Wall, Saskatchewan’s provincial premier and one of the most vocal critics of the BHP bid, had warned that a takeover could result in a loss of jobs within the province. BHP’s move to relocate the head office of its potash business to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, could help warm up relations with the province.
Despite the failure of the Potash Corp bid, BHP has continued to push ahead with plans to develop its Jansen potash project in Saskatchewan. BHP says that Jansen will eventually become the world’s biggest potash mine with annual output of 8 million tons.
BHP, which initially said it would make a final decision on whether to go ahead with Jansen this year, now says it will not come until 2012.
“We are considering a combination of factors as we refine our timelines on Jansen,” said BHP spokesman Ruban Yogarajah. “However, the project timeline remains within our anticipated range and should we receive all necessary internal and external approvals, we expect first production in 2015.”
BHP said the plan to relocate the office would result in an additional 30 jobs in Saskatoon and boost the head count at its Saskatoon office to about 100 employees.
“This relocation will be phased over the coming months and reflects the company’s commitment to establish a premier potash business managed from Saskatchewan,” the company said.
Yogarajah said the company will also have a small team of employees based in Toronto to work with SNC Lavalin, which is one of BHP’s key contractors for the Jansen project.
BHP also named Tim Cutt as head of its diamonds and specialty products business, effective June 1.
Cutt, who takes over from Graham Kerr, will be based at BHP’s offices in Saskatoon, the company said. Cutt is currently head of production in BHP’s petroleum business, a position he has held since joining the company in 2007. He was previously head of oil giant ExxonMobil’s business in Venezuela.
BHP said Kerr is returning to Australia due to a family illness and will assume a senior position with the company to be announced in due course.
Reporting by Euan Rocha; editing by Peter Galloway