North Australia Digest – 3/12/2012

The Australian 
Environment groups have formed a “council of war” to combat business and state government moves to cut green-tape. The Business Council of Australia has led the charge for cutting green-tape with claims it jeopardises $900 billion of projects. “It is not about reducing the environmental protections which are important to protect out natural heritage”, according to BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott. Green groups claim COAG’s green-tape reform process has gone too far: “In our view there is the scope for efficiencies in how environmental assessments are done but the negotiations have become tangled because there is now a push for full environmental approval powers to be delegated to the states”, Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Don Henry said.
Australia’s largest Indian investor, Adani Group, will push ahead with its $10 billion Carmichael Coal mine, rail and port project in the Galilee basin. Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman pledged their governments’ commitments to granting all regulatory and environmental approvals by mid next year.
Woodside Petroleum is eying a “number of opportunities” in the US as it looks to tap the shale gas boom there. Chief Executive Peter Coleman said that Perth also had the opportunity to expand as a centre of technology for LNG: “There’s probably no other place in the world with such a concentration of engineers and technologists and people who operate facilities than in Perth”.
Australia’s junior and mid-tier miners are under increasing pressure as funding sources dry up, threatening the next pipeline of projects and reducing the rate of new discoveries, according to Sarah-Jane Tasker.
The Chinese economy is showing strong signs of a rebound, dispelling the notion that the nation is heading towards a hard landing. The official November Purchasing Managers Index, a key barometer of the economy that was published at the weekend, reveals the powerful manufacturing sector is expanding after a long period of contraction.
The Australian Financial Review
Australia’s biggest contractor Worsley Parsons is designing and developing more of its projects outside Australia in a bid to curb costs. New chief executive Andrew Wood argues that it is not realistic for Australia to be doing detailed design work due to high labour costs. “If there’s a common theme, particularly in places like Canada and Australia, it’s concern about cost, and delivery certainty of projects – making sure projects are delivered on time and against realistic budgets,” Mr Wood said.
China’s economy looks set to rebound in the last quarter of 2012 with a strong lift in factory output.
Mining services companies that expanded aggressively during the boom are finding it difficult to downsize due to a drop in the price of second-hand equipment caused by the boom-time glut, according to insolvency firm PPB Advisory.
Chevron is set to announce an increased budget of nearly $60 billion for its Gorgon LNG project, a $17 billion increase, and a delay in the start of production to 2015. The unprecedented construction of some $180 billion of LNG ventures at the same time is putting pressure on Austria’s skilled labour, driving up wages in LNG construction.
BIS Shrapnel has warned labour productivity in mining is “an absolute disaster”, expecting jobs growth to halt as companies focus on productivity. BIS says mining productivity is 60 per cent below peak levels seen in 2000-2001 in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis.
Australia – with high labour, currency and tax costs – can’t stand immune from convulsions in global energy, according to Ben Potter. The consequences of vast supplies of cheap gas in America will be felt worldwide for decades, and pose obvious risks to Australia’s privileged position as a supplier of coal and gas to China, Japan and India if we can’t deal with growing costs.
The West Australian
Apache Energy has applied to explore for oil and gas near Exmouth, in a move set to anger environmentalists.
The University of Western Australia is considering establishing a Pilbara campus to support and expand its network in the mining region. “Clearly the Pilbara is the most important energy and minerals region in WA and probably in Australia. There’s a broad range of technical and social issues that flow from that and it would be desirable to have a deeper understanding of those issues.”
Franklin Gaffney argues that the recent Ord River agreement to lease land to Shanghai Zhongfu offers the region economic independence. [No Link]
The Courier Mail
Cost pressures will not impact on another boom forecast for the mining industry over the next decade, according to the report by BIS Shrapnel. Production increases through the expansion of existing mines is expected to offset the industry’s reluctance to commit to new projects, while job creation is expected to slow.
NT News
The NT News rates the first 100 days of Terry Mills government. It points out that setting up the Office of Asian Engagement has so far been slow, that the Mills government has been quick out of the blocks to expand the Ord River Irrigation Scheme into the NT, and that the transport department is reviewing the needs of Darwin’s port capacity.