Ground Breakers: Miners strongarm WA on Covid rules and WA EPA to assess MinRes expansion plans
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After just a handful of Omicron cases were identified on remote WA mine sites in recent days, miners have already made an attempt to get the McGowan Government into relaxing contact isolation requirements.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with WA, our biggest mining companies more or less run the State, winning a succession of political wars including against Kevin Rudd’s mining tax, Brendon Grylls’ special lease rental and Mark McGowan’s attempt a few years ago to raise the gold royalty rate.
Now they have called on the popular State Premier to introduce relaxed Covid isolation measures that would reduce the isolation time from 14 to seven days, and remove testing or isolation requirements for casual contacts.
It’s understandable why they want it to happen. Labour shortages have emerged as the WA mining sector’s number one concern, with a bevy of gold, lithium, iron ore and nickel miners all highlighting the impact of a dwindling pool of truckies, maintenance staff, shotfirers, contractors and more to site.
With the border remaining closed, high Covid caseloads on FIFO sites could see similar impacts to production from absenteeism, as BHP (ASX:BHP) and Whitehaven Coal (ASX:WHC) have faced at their east coast coal mines.
So far McGowan is not budging.
Miners were relatively weak this morning, dropping into the red with BHP (which has seen billions of dollars of trading action after its unification yesterday) Rio Tinto and FMG all down.
Gold miners received a breather after several weak days after prices recovered slightly overnight, with Newcrest (ASX:NCM) up 3.43%.
Lithium miners were also buoyant as industry leaders tip strong prices will continue.
MinRes (ASX:MIN), part owner of the Mt Marion lithium mine, Wodgina mine and Kemerton hydroxide plant (the subject of a recent Covid outbreak), was up 3.14%.
Speaking of MinRes, WA’s environmental watchdog today declared it would assess its proposal to develop infrastructure for the 30Mtpa Ashburton iron ore hub.
Planned to commence production next year, the major development would introduce larger scale, lower cost production to the mid-tier iron ore miner’s production profile, adding a project its boss Chris Ellison believes will be profitable in any price cycle.
MinRes subsidiary Onslow Iron submitted approval documentation in October, seeking permission to export up to 40Mtpa over a minimum period of 30 years from the Port of Ashburton in the West Pilbara.
The iron ore producer plans to develop a 125km long private haul road, gas pipeline, storage and bulk handling facility at Ashbuton, and a modular jetty wharf and ship loader among other infrastructure.
EPA chair Professor Matthew Tonts said the likely environmental effects of the proposal are significant, requesting a detailed assessment of its direct and indirect impacts and how environmental impacts will be managed.
There will also be a two week public review.
According the timelines provided by MinRes in a proposal document, the Ashburton Infrastructure Project will take 18 months to construct, with a 12-month commissioning phase.