Iron ore alliance aims to pressure miners for infrastructure access

Iron ore alliance aims to pressure miners for infrastructure access

FOURTEEN prospective Pilbara iron ore miners have formed a fledgling alliance to fight for access to critical transport infrastructure in the region, including the massive port and rail networks of mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

The so-called Pilbara Iron Ore Alliance will aim to present a united front to lobby for infrastructure access and investment to unlock hundreds of millions of tonnes of “stranded” iron ore resources in the region.

The group is expected to adopt a similar approach to that of the Geraldton Iron Ore Alliance, which was launched last year to present a united voice in representing start-up iron ore miners in the state’s mid-west, especially in relation to co-ordinating their conflicting infrastructure requirements.

At a meeting at the West Perth headquarters of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies last week, representatives from the 14 iron ore juniors met to formulate the agenda and core objectives of the alliance.

Last week’s meeting was initiated by Atlas Iron chief executive David Flanagan, whose company is racing with Fortescue Metals to become the first new iron ore miner in the Pilbara in more than two decades.

Atlas hopes to commission its boutique 1-million-tonnes-a-year Pardoo hematite mine near Port Hedland early in 2008.

The companies attending the meeting were Atlas, Yilgarn Mining, United Minerals Corp, Aurox Resources, BC Iron, Ausquest, Ferraus Resources, Echelon Resources, Cazaly Resources, Iron Ore Holdings, Aquila Resources, Cape Lambert Iron, Australasian Resources and Polaris Metals.

Notable by its exclusion from the meeting was Fortescue, which has championed the battle to force open the Pilbara rail networks of BHP and Rio, and has pledged to make its own port and rail assets open to third-party users.

It is believed Fortescue was not invited to join because it is an infrastructure owner in its own right, and will be one of the parties likely to be in negotiations with alliance members to transport ore from their respective operations.

Alliance members are also believed to be sensitive to any perception they are aligned with Fortescue, making access negotiations with BHP and Rio even more difficult given the ongoing legal battle by Fortescue to force open BHP’s main Newman railway.

The Federal Court in December ruled that the Newman railway was not exempt from national competition laws, bolstering Fortescue’s appeal to the Australian Competition Tribunal to “declare” the railway a service under the Trade Practices Act.

Mr Flanagan yesterday said the first meeting of the group had been positive but it would be at least a month before the alliance was formalised.

“If we get 10-15 companies in an alliance, suddenly there are 15,000 shareholders,” he said.


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