SYDNEY Dec 22 Fortescue Metals Group
secured 42 mining and exploration leases in the world's biggest
iron ore precinct last financial year ahead of competitors being
notified the land was even available, parliamentary documents
Fortescue, the world's No. 4 iron ore miner, secured the
exploration ground in the minerals-rich Pilbara by paying
Western Australia's Department of Mines and Petroleum for
numerous electronic information requests on land parcels.
The requests were made ahead of the free, daily public
release of data that details which leases had become available
earlier that day.
The tactic is the latest technique being employed to beat
rivals in a competitive iron ore industry where the rights to
deposits underpin future profits.
"It is irritating but, thankfully, not yet widespread," said
Les Lowe, president of the Amalgamated Prospectors and
Leaseholders Association of Western Australia, which represents
prospectors and smaller miners.
"If it catches on there will be a problem because we won't
be able to compete with those with big exploration budgets."
Reuters first confirmed the use of the tactic in August,
after tracking 31 examples of Fortescue obtaining the permits
hours or sometimes even just minutes before the public
In response to questions raised in the Western Australian
parliament, the state government has revealed Fortescue obtained
a total of 42 mining and exploration permits just prior to the
public release in 2015/16.
Rival miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto
have previously said they do not engage in the
"In acquiring tenements Fortescue operates in compliance
with the Mining Act, and in terms of government material
accesses the same information at the same time as is available
to its competitors and the general public," a Fortescue
Western Australian mining laws are governed under "first
come, first served" principles.
In an earlier age, this resulted in prospectors bursting
through local mining department offices as soon as they opened
to lodge paperwork ahead of a rival.
Currently, details of available leases are handed out free
of charge at a specified time each afternoon.
However, companies can also make requests earlier in the day
to find surrendered land at a cost of just under A$1 ($0.72) for
each specific parcel of land. Fortescue would likely need to
lodge several hundred requests a day to secure the most
lucrative tenure, an expert in the electronic systems told
Executive director of mineral titles at the state's mining
department, Ivor Roberts, said in a written statement that the
department had taken steps to make its systems "equitable for
There is currently no proposal to change the system.
State lawmaker Robin Chapple, a Greens politician whose
electorate covers the Pilbara, said legislative change was
needed to stop the practice given it benefited companies with
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Richard Pullin)