IRON ore companies operating in the Port Hedland regionwill fund a $6 million study to establish whether water from the West Canning basin is fit for industrial use.
BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Fortescue Metals Group, and North West Infrastructure – which represents Atlas Iron and Brockman Resources – will work with the Water Corporation on the drilling investigation program in the basin, 120 kilometres east of Port Hedland.
The Department of Water had reserved 10 billion litres of water from the basin for the Water Corporation, which will manage the drilling investigation.
Water Minister Bill Marmion said early investigations of the water supply had shown it was fit for industrial use, and would provide enough water to support a major new supply scheme.
He said that if the results were positive, the existing borefields that supply Port Hedland would be prioritised for residential and community developments, while commercial negotiations would commence around commissioning a new supply scheme.
The announcement that the mining companies will foot the bill for the investigation project comes after another iron ore miner, Rio Tinto, agreed to fund its own water supply development in the West Pilbara last year.
In the agreement with the state government announced in September, Rio Tinto surrendered its annual entitlement from the Millstream aquifer and will instead develop its own water supply from the Bungaroo Valley. That development will cost the company an estimated $310 million.
Rio Tinto also agreed to develop a joint proposal with the state government to upgrade the existing water supply and increase its capacity.