Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. beat its rivals to 42 mining and exploration leases in Western Australia's Pilbara region last financial year by paying the state's Department of Mines and Petroleum for numerous electronic information requests on land parcels before a free, daily public release of data on the leases' availability.
Citing parliamentary documents, Reuters reported Dec. 22 that the state government confirmed Fortescue's new permits. The newswire added that it first took note of Fortescue's tactic in August after tracking that the miner secured permits just hours or sometimes even minutes before public information on available leases was released.
Les Lowe, president of the Amalgamated Prospectors and Leaseholders Association of Western Australia, which represents prospectors and smaller miners, refers to the strategy as "irritating" given that smaller firms are not able to compete with miners with bigger exploration budgets.
According to Reuters, BHP Billiton Group and Rio Tinto previously said they do not engage in the practice. A Fortescue spokesman, however, defended the strategy, saying "Fortescue operates in compliance with the Mining Act."
Ivor Roberts, executive director of mineral titles at the state's mining department, said the department had taken steps to make its systems "equitable for all users" but the report noted that there is no proposal to change the system.