Aquila Resources executive chairman Tony Poli says Fortescue Metals Group's surprise revelation it could pursue an outer harbour development at Port Hedland strengthens his miner's case to be put in charge of a new port at Anketell Point in the west Pilbara.
Fortescue development director Peter Meurs dropped the bombshell in Perth yesterday - the first time Fortescue has hinted it could favour an outer harbour option, similar to that being considered by BHP Billiton, over Anketell.
"As we're looking at future projects we always consider our options," Mr Meurs said on the sidelines of the AJM Global Iron Ore and Steel Forecast Conference, adding that proximity of its Nyidinghu deposit to its existing Chichester mines made Port Hedland an option.
"It happens that Nyidinghu is very close to the Chichesters, it's a great blending stock with the Chichesters and we're looking at (could we) do something that makes sense at Port Hedland. We'll just compare that with Anketell and other options for the future."
Mr Meurs' comments may add to Premier Colin Barnett's headache over Anketell, where he is trying to avoid an Oakajee-style disaster by not tying development of the port to any single mine. Aquila, which needs the port for its west Pilbara iron ore project, and Fortescue spent much of last year vying to be put in charge of Anketell.
Responding to Mr Meurs' comments yesterday, Mr Poli told _WestBusiness _: "That should make it easier for the State Government to give us the mandate to develop Anketell Port."
Given Aquila has envisaged a 50-million-tonne a year start-up at Anketell, with scope to expand, and needs only 30mtpa initially itself, there could be 20mtpa available for other parties under its plan.
BHP is well advanced on studies for an outer harbour development that would include a 4km jetty, four-berth wharf and 32km shipping channel. However, the mining heavyweight is unlikely to be enthusiastic about sharing its infrastructure with Fortescue.
Mr Meurs acknowledged as much, saying BHP had "made it clear they want to develop the outer harbour on their own and that's up to them".
"But there's obviously opportunities to share infrastructure like the channels and other things in the future," he said.
"We're just looking at the outer harbour from our perspective at the moment . . . we're just comparing an Anketell development with an outer-harbour development."
The Port Hedland Port Authority is understood to have been assessing opportunities for non-BHP outer harbour developments since at least last year.
Fortescue shed 6¢ to $5.92 and Aquila was off 10¢ to $5.08.