New Pilbara iron ore port ‘in wrong spot’

New Pilbara iron ore port ‘in wrong spot’

WA will get a new deep water port in the Pilbara within 10 years to cater for the booming iron ore industry but the Government’s first choice of location came under fire when it was announced by Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan yesterday.

Ms MacTiernan said the greenfields site at Ronsard Island, 80km west of Port Hedland, came out ahead of six options considered on proximity to ore deposits, heritage and environmental impacts and geological factors.

But the director of government relations at emerging miner Fortescue Metals Group, Julian Tapp, said the land around Ronsard was unsuitable for a heavy haulage railway and he suspected the site had been chosen between Dampier and Port Hedland to placate industry heavyweights Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

The Government is working on figures that show WA could be exporting as much as 890 million tonnes of iron ore a year from 2025. The State currently exports around 240 million tonnes to China, Japan and South Korea.

Major expansions at Dampier and Port Hedland are set to raise capacity at those ports to between 457 and 537 million tonnes over the next two to three years.

Rio is also spending around $1 billion to boost capacity at the privately owned Cape Lambert. ”We’ve tried to look at two axes ”” where the demand might go and where capacity might go but it’s quite clear that on any of the scenarios we will need a new port and we believe that the most likely time frame is around 2015 to 2017,” Ms MacTiernan said.

She said the new port would be built on the current financial and operating model for WA ports, with an authority borrowing to build the major infrastructure and private companies paying for berthing facilities.

She said there would be common-user berths for smaller companies and other shipping, and initially estimated the public input to be around $500 million, although the total would be more.

BHP’s Port Hedland expansion will raise capacity from 109 million tonnes to 129 million tonnes and will cost around $2 billion. Rio is believed to be spending $1 billion at each of its Dampier and Cape Lambert operations for an increase at each of them of 30 million tonnes.

Ms MacTiernan said the Government hoped the Ronsard Island port would cater for between 300 and 500 million tonnes per annum.

But Mr Tapp said muddy land there would mean rail would have to be held up by pylons, making it an expensive option.

”Our view is that Ronsard Island is nowhere near as attractive as it appears on paper because they haven’t done the geotechnical studies,” he said.


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