August 7th (Steel Guru) – Money control.com reported that state owned mining firm NMDC is in talks with Rio Tinto for a 50:50 JV which would bid for global mining assets.

Mr Rana Som CMD of NMDC said that “We are in discussion for a 50:50 joint venture. Rio Tinto was one of the international parties to evince interest in establishing a joint venture when we floated a tender.”

Earlier this year, as many as 35 companies had expressed interest in NMDC’s global tender for floating a joint venture for mining activities. Out of which six were foreign companies.

A Rio Tinto spokesperson said that “Rio Tinto does not comment on market rumor or speculation.”

As per report, the JV besides acquisition of global assets, the partnership could be extended to new assets in the domestic market also. Industry sources said that the partnership could enhance the global mining giant Rio Tinto’s presence in the domestic market significantly.

Like Rio Tinto, NMDC is also involved in the exploration and mining of a wide range of minerals. Also, in the domestic market, NMDC has filed mining applications for iron ore and coal in almost all the mineral rich states. If the discussions with Rio Tinto get through, it would be the domestic miner’s second joint venture company.

Mr Som said that the two joint venture companies would bid for different assets in different countries. NMDC and the Spice Energy group have formed a joint working group, which is conducting due diligence of some assets, including two iron ore deposits in Armenia, which may require an investment of USD 500 million.

August 7th (Steel Guru) – Rio Tinto said that it would fight for its right to continue developing a world class iron ore project in Guinea, after the country’s president appeared to rescind the concession.

Mr Sam Walsh head of Rio’s iron ore division said that “This is a matter that is under very heavy discussion between us and our joint venture partners, the World Bank. We are in the midst of discussions. We will fight for our rights.”

Mr Walsh denied reports the Guinean government had accused Rio of developing a monopoly on all iron ore resources of the Simandou region, saying this was simply not true. He said Rio’s project comprised only 18% of the deposits of the Simandou range.

Rio has already spent USD 300 million developing the Simandou iron ore project, which is without doubt, the top undeveloped tier one iron ore asset in the world. Rio had planned to start mining at Simandou by 2013, but in June 2008 received a letter from the president’s office questioning the validity of its Simandou concession. Rio remains on site and said it was confident that its arrangements are in all respects in conformity with Guinean laws and that it has complied with its obligations.

Simandou is a prominent component of the list of growth projects Rio is using in its defense against a hostile USD 170 billion takeover bid from BHP Billiton. Building the mine and the railway needed to transport the iron ore to Guinea’s coast is expected to cost USD 6 billion. The project could eventually produce up to 170 million tonnes of iron ore a year.

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.

August 4th (The Age) – POLITICAL intrigue and rising resources nationalism has raised fresh doubts over Rio Tinto’s grip on its $US6 billion ($A6.46 billion) Simandou iron ore project in Guinea.

Rio has portrayed the proposed development of the huge iron ore deposit as a Pilbara in the making.

And because of its importance as a growth project, it is a key plank in Rio’s defence against BHP Billiton’s $170 billion takeover bid.

But a rattled Rio has revealed that it has received correspondence from Guinean President Lansana Conte purporting to rescind the Simandou mining concession.

Along with its partner in the project, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Rio is studying the issues raised in the correspondence.

Rio said it was “confident that its arrangements are in all respects in conformity with Guinean laws and that it has complied with its obligations”.

It said it had negotiated and executed the mining concession in “full transparency with the Guinean Government”.

Rio’s potential loss of Simandou came as President Conte sacked Secretary-General Mamady Sam Soumah. State TV said Mr Soumah would be replaced by Alpha Ibrahima Keira, the president’s son-in-law.

It was Mr Soumah who first raised tenure concerns for Rio over Simandou in May when he said the Government would be reconsidering the concession because of irregularities in the original agreement. Just as ominous, Guinea’s latest threat to Rio’s Simandou ownership follows the return to Beijing of a Chinese trade delegation offering billions of dollars of investment in Guinea in return for Chinese ownership of resource projects.

There is long-running unease among foreign resource companies in Guinea because of a special committee set up to renegotiate all mining agreements, ostensibly to capture a bigger share of the boom in commodity prices.

Even so, Guinea’s Mines Minister, Ahmed Kante, said early last week that Rio’s Simandou iron ore mine was on track and would benefit Guinea and the company.

The question over Simandou ownership could not come at a worse time for Rio. In May, Rio called on the market to start ascribing some value for the project in valuations of the company — an effort to close the widening gap between the imputed value of BHP’s 3.4-for-1 conditional scrip bid and Rio’s share price.

But shortly after Rio’s call to the market, the first query on Simandou’s mining concession from the Guinean Government surfaced. Somewhat ironically, it was BHP managing director Marius Kloppers who some time later warned about getting too excited too early about projects subject to high levels of sovereign risk. He used BHP’s bauxite-alumina project plans in Guinea as an example.

Rio has spent or committed to spend $US300 million on Simandou.

July 30th (ABC News) – The Fortescue Metals Group, headed by Andrew Forrest, is making its first foray into international mining by applying to test for minerals in a vast area in New Zealand.

Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has made several applications to test for iron ore sands on the west coast of the South Island in an area covering 4,000 kilometres.

The venture has upset a group of miners who claim their century old gold mining business could be jeopardised.

Bluescope Steel is already dredging iron ore sands along the North Island.

It is understood other miners including Rio Tinto and China’s Sinosteel also have interests in the region.

FMG’s Graeme Rowley says if its applications for permits are approved it will consult with concerned groups.

“At this stage it is so early in the process that we are not aware of some of the challenges that obviously through the consultation we will be involved in all of the issues that are raised by local community,” he said.

“Obviously through the consultation we will be involved in all of the issues that are raised by local community and obviously if certain things become prohibitive then obviously the tenders will not be granted.

 

Too large

 

Keith Brodie from New Zealand’s mining lobby Minerals West says FMG’s application is too large and the governing body needs to scrutinise it closely.

“[To] make sure it complies with the minerals program that covers the whole of New Zealand,” he said.

“Also to make sure that they’re not sacrificing one part of the minerals industry for another so it has to be carefully considered.”

July 29th (Bloomberg) – Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second- largest iron ore producer, plans to spend $2.15 billion raising output of the steelmaking raw material sixfold at its Corumba mine in Brazil.

Production will rise to 12.8 million metric tons a year, from 2 million tons currently, London-based Rio said today in a statement. The company will conduct a study, which will be completed next year, into expanding to 23.2 million tons.

Rio, which also operates mines in Australia and Canada, is seeking to triple output to 600 million tons in a bid to repel a hostile $148 billion offer from BHP Billiton Ltd. Contract iron ore prices rose to a record this year on soaring steel demand in emerging economies including China, the largest consumer.

Output from the enlarged Brazilian mine is expected to commence in the fourth quarter of 2010, Rio said. Two ports will be built, including one in neighboring Uruguay. The ore from the mine will be moved along the River Paraguay before being loaded onto ships.

Rio produced 179 million tons of iron ore last year. Corumba will supplement output from its Pilbara mines in Australia, the 59 percent owned Iron Ore Co. of Canada and the Simandou project in Guinea.

Brazil’s Cia. Vale do Rio Doce is the world’s biggest iron- ore producer.

July 29th (Steel Guru) – It is reported that Royal Boskalis Westminster has been awarded a EUR 145 million contract by Rio Tinto for the expansion of its iron ore port facility at Cape Lambert in Western Australia. The contract is due to be completed in the second half of 2010.

The assignment includes the dredging of new berth pockets, turning and departure basins and an access channel and will be executed with a combination of cutters and hoppers. The contract is conditional on Rio Tinto obtaining various approvals, including environmental.

Boskalis officials said that “Global demand for maritime infrastructure continues to be strong. Specifically, large scale projects in such as Cape Lambert are driven by the strong demand for energy and natural resources. Boskalis can successfully capitalize on these developments through its global presence and its selective contracting policy.”

Mr Peter Berdowski CEO of Boskalis said that “As a consequence of the recently acquired projects in Dubai and Australia, our fleet is well utilized through 2009. The margins on these new projects are healthy despite increases in operational cost items such as fuel and steel. Furthermore, the margin development on current projects is in line with our previous expectations.”