MELBOURNE Feb 7 Whitehaven Coal
suffered a fresh delay on its key Maules Creek project on
Thursday when the Australian government said it would postpone a
decision on whether to approve the development, sending the
miner's shares down 5 percent.
Whitehaven said in November it planned to bring the mine
into production by the first quarter of 2014, but that was
before the latest delay on the project it acquired with its
takeover of tycoon Nathan Tinkler's Aston Resources last year.
"We are extremely disappointed at this further delay to this
important project," Whitehaven Managing Director Mr Tony
Haggarty said in a statement.
The federal government had extended the timeframe for
reaching a decision to April 30, he said.
Maules Creek won state approval last October, two years
after the approval process began. But the proposed mine
continues to be the target of environmental protests, with a
group called Frontline Action on Coal having camped out near the
site for five months.
The group attracted attention in January when it sent out a
hoax media release that said Australia and New Zealand Banking
Group had withdrawn a A$1.2 billion ($1.24 billion)
loan for the project, which briefly sent Whitehaven's shares
down 9 percent.
Maules Creek is 15 percent owned by Japanese trading house
Itochu Corp and 10 percent owned by Japan's Electric
Power Development Co (J-Power), which has an agreement
to take coal from the mine.
The mine is key to Whitehaven's goal of quadrupling its
output to 25 million tonnes a year by 2016.
Whitehaven's shares fell 5.3 percent to A$3.02 after the
announcement, a two-month low.
($1 = 0.9691 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin)