SYDNEY Sep 13 Australian mining billionaire
Andrew Forrest has used his private company to apply for
thousands of square kilometres of mineral exploration rights
over his cattle stations, adding a new twist to an age-old
battle between farmers and miners.
While farmers have often tried to keep miners off their
land, citing factors such as stressed cattle or damaged water
quality, Forrest has taken out exploration rights over much of
his pastoral leases, on some occasions rolling them over between
controlled companies, so-called "land banking".
Land banking is not illegal, but the practice goes against
the spirit of mining laws and the state of Western Australia,
which covers Forrest's cattle stations, is currently amending
laws to address the issue.
A spokeswoman for Forrest's private investment company,
Squadron Resources, said the company was "absolutely not"
securing exploration rights on properties leased by Forrest as a
"Squadron is a bona fide explorer and miner employing a
well-qualified and experienced full-time geologist," she said.
"Squadron applies for mining tenements in areas it considers are
Forrest was one of Australia's most prolific explorers in
the 2000s when he founded and built Fortescue Metals Group into
the world's fourth-biggest iron ore miner, pressuring larger
rivals into releasing land they weren't actively exploring.
He also battled fellow resources billionaire Gina Rinehart
in the courts after she raised environmental concerns over the
operations of Fortescue's primary mine, Cloudbreak, which is
located on her pastoral lease.
In recent years, Forrest has dramatically increased his own
cattle holdings to cover more than 10,000 sq km (3,900 sq
miles), about half the size of Wales.
A Reuters analysis of state exploration leases linked to his
private company Squadron found that 34 of the company's 40
exploration and mining leases are wholly or partly on three of
his stations: Uaroo, Nanutarra, and Forrest's childhood home,
On at least four occasions, Squadron applied for and took
over exploration applications on the Minderoo station that were
controlled by another Forrest vehicle, the analysis shows,
keeping them under Forrest's control and prolonging their
Businessman Ross Ladyman, who has sold exploration rights
and a mining lease on Minderoo to Forrest, said it was
understandable Forrest had built up mineral tenement holdings on
"I don't think you should be at all surprised that he won't
mine the leases. He just doesn't want anyone else disturbing
them," said Ladyman. "It will never amount to anything."
Western Australia's Pilbara region is the world's biggest
iron ore precinct and has underpinned the success of Fortescue,
as well as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto
, helping Forrest become one of Australia's
wealthiest businessmen with a $4.2 billion fortune, according to
Under state laws, mining and pastoral operations co-exist,
with rural land owned by the state but often leased at the same
time to both industries.
Forrest has repeatedly raised concerns that some resources
companies trying to access his stations had not properly taken
environmental concerns into account.
Western Australia's Department of Mines and Petroleum
executive director Ivor Roberts told Reuters that all
exploration applications, including Squadron's, were "assumed to
be bona fide".
However issues around "land banking" were currently being
addressed in an amendment to mining legislation now being
considered by the state parliament but not yet passed, Roberts
The amendment is designed to prohibit the practice of
lodging successive exploration applications for particular
tenements, thereby quarantining them from rivals, a tactic
sometimes used by miners to hold on to prospective ground they
can't immediately explore.
Squadron's spokeswoman declined to comment on what
ground-disturbing exploration work, if any, the company may have
carried out on its leases.
An earlier Reuters analysis of mineral leases found
Fortescue found a way to legally apply for just released tenure
ahead of the information being made public.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Richard Pullin)