August 7th (The Sydney Morning Herald) – Atlas Iron Ltd has entered into a joint-venture agreement with Fortescue Metals Group Ltd (FMG) for Atlas’s Abydos project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

The joint venture covers a tenement over which Atlas owns the iron ore rights. Atlas also said that it was the first company to seal a port access deal with Fortescue for its new Port Hedland iron ore export terminal. “The primary focus of the joint venture is to define and develop extensions to the FMG Glacial Valley magnetite deposit, (part of the Abydos project)” Atlas said in a statement.

“FMG may earn a 60 per cent joint-venture interest in the iron ore rights by delineating inferred resources of iron ore within the tenement,” Atlas said. It also said FMG may earn a further 15 per cent joint venture interest in the iron ore rights by completing a pre-feasibility study on the mining of iron ore within the tenement.

A further 12.5 per cent joint venture interest may be earned in the iron ore rights by completing a definitive feasibility study on the mining of iron ore within the tenement. Atlas has converted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) into a binding heads of agreement to use Fortescue’s port facilities for the initial period of production from its flagship Pardoo project, about 100km from Port Hedland.

Pardoo commences production in October, with exports to follow in December.

“This is a ground-breaking third-party port access agreement, the first of its kind in Western Australia,” Atlas managing director David Flanagan said. “We now look forward to building on our association with FMG as we commence development of our second iron ore project, 120km south of Port Hedland at Abydos.”

Atlas is expected to negotiate a rail haulage agreement with FMG to transport ore from Abydos to port. It is also likely to use road haulage to get its product from Pardoo to port. Mr Flanagan flew from the Diggers and Dealers Conference in the mining town of Kalgoorlie to Perth to finalise the negotiations. He returned to the popular conference to make a presentation.

He told delegates that Atlas had not yet committed to offtake agreements because it planned to sell about 60 per cent of product on the spot market to capitalise on high prices. “Every other day we receive an offer … with a base case that we would achieve a premium to the benchmark price,” he said.

He said Atlas was spending between $1.2 million and $1.5 million on exploration each week. The only other company that has an MOU with Fortescue is BC Iron Ltd.

August 4th (Mineweb) – The North West Iron Ore Alliance has further outlined its case for the establishment of third party infrastructure access in the Pilbara, today announcing it has submitted responses to the recent draft recommendations from both the Pilbara Rail Access Interdepartmental Committee (PRAIC) and the National Competition Council (NCC).

The Alliance announced today (Monday) that it intended to play an active role in shaping the framework for a third party access regime by participating in the PRAIC and NCC consultation processes, and remained strongly committed to working towards a constructive solution with other stakeholders in the Pilbara. 

Independent Chair of the North West Alliance, Ms Megan Anwyl, said access to existing infrastructure remained a fundamental necessity to the formation of a sustainable, viable and successful junior iron ore industry in the Pilbara.

“We believe that BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have a legal obligation to allow rail haulage to third parties under their various State Agreements, and that this would lead to a healthy diversification of the iron ore industry in the Pilbara and better social and economic outcomes for its residents and the nation as a whole,” she said. 

“If fair and equitable infrastructure access is not granted, some mine sites would not be financially viable, or production could be severely limited due to the environmental, social, financial and potential licensing restrictions relative to the trucking of iron ore,” Ms Anwyl continued.  “Further, the State Government has a clear policy preference towards rail over road transport.”

“The four members of the North West Iron Ore Alliance – Atlas Iron, BC Iron, Brockman Resources and Ferraus – therefore have an obligation to their shareholders to negotiate a workable solution for the transportation and shipment of their ore through the Pilbara,” she commented.  “We have been very encouraged by the draft PRAIC regime and NCC recommendation, and look forward to providing further input towards the final outcomes through the responses we have submitted.” 

Ms Anwyl said one of the key PRAIC recommendations the Alliance had made was to support the need for the appointment of a strong Regulator to ensure a timely, effective and equitable access regime.

“It is important that the interests of all parties are balanced, and that there is an independent body to ensure that this balance is maintained,” she said.  “The North West Iron Ore Alliance therefore supports the need for a strong Regulator who would be responsible not only for approving such factors as the pricing and costing of the rail haulage regime, as but also for key issues such as capacity and service level principles, safety principles and capacity modelling principles.” 

The North West Iron Ore Alliance was formed in 2007 to support the development of a junior iron ore sector in the Pilbara. The member companies – Atlas Iron, BC Iron, Brockman Resources and FerrAus – have agreed to cooperate on issues such as infrastructure development and access, statutory approvals and community development. 

Collectively the members of the North West Iron Ore Alliance have the potential to deliver over 50 million tonnes of iron ore per annum by 2014, generating approximately $165 million in State royalties per annum.

July 1st (The Australian Business) – IRON ore explorer BC Iron has completed a scoping study for its Nullagine project and committed to a feasibility study.

The study envisaged a three to five million tonne per annum direct shipping ore operation, situated 140km north of the town of Newman in Western Australia’s iron-rich Pilbara region. The Perth-based company said the project had the potential to be a high-value, long-life iron ore business.

The project is likely to involve simple open pit mining, crushing and screening to a fines product. Ore would be hauled by road to Fortescue Metal Group’s planned Christmas Creek operation. BC Iron (ASX: BCI: quote) has a memorandum of understanding with Fortescue to negotiate rail and port access. The scoping study estimated capital costs of $85 million and the current resource would underpin a mine life of about six years. Shares in BC Iron were down 12 cents, or 7.5 per cent, to $1.48 in mid-morning trading today.

June 20th (Iron Ore Daily Post) – Australian company BC Iron has published an updated presentation on its Pilbara’s resources and projects, which could be downloaded from this link: BC Iron – Pilbara’s Projects.