New players target fortunes in Bowen Basin

WIDELY known as the world’s premier region for coal, Queensland’s Bowen Basin has delivered on its reputation, with some 34 mining operations, mainly coal, and over 30 potential new developments in the woodwork to transform exploration companies into producers. With the state’s mineral and energy industries worth some $25 billion, Rebecca Lawson takes a look at some of the newer players to the famed Bowen Basin in their quest to strike it rich.
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Rebecca Lawson

Compared to the multitude of companies mining in the region, which produced a total output of nearly 172 million tonnes of coal for fiscal 2006, only a handful of companies are in the region for exploration. This has prompted Queensland Resource Council chief executive Michael Roche to say the state is “punching below its weight” in terms of exploration expenditure.

According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Queensland’s share of the national exploration expenditure during the 2006 December quarter came in at 16.44%, up slightly from the previous quarter’s 16.27%. However, recent figures show a significant drop from the 2006 March quarter share of 18.58%.

However, putting aside the current debate on the apparent lack of exploration expenditure in the region, three new companies are doing their bit to share in the prosperity of the Bowen Basin.

Cockatoo Coal

Listed in 2005, Cockatoo’s half-yearly report to December 31, 2006 has seen the company ramp up its strategic positioning in its flagship Bowen Basin projects, Wonbindi and Dingo.

In a bid to accelerate exploration and enhance access to the lucrative South Korean market, Cockatoo recently raised $9 million by placing 20 million fully paid ordinary shares – at a 41% premium to its current share price – with South Korean energy companies SK Australia and Kores Australia.

Additionally, Cockatoo has also acquired a 100% interest in the Dingo project on the southeastern flank of the Bowen Basin following an agreement to acquire Independent Coal, which is the registered holder of the Dingo tenements. Previously, Cockatoo was earning up to 80% interest in Dingo from Independent.

The new deal struck over Dingo will enable Cockatoo to have control over exploration activities over its flagship projects, with the company currently preparing Phase 3 of its three-drill program for Dingo, which is expected to get underway by June.

Meanwhile at Wonbindi, Cockatoo is preparing a close-spaced drill program, which will provide data for a geological model of the coal resource, which currently has an indicated resource of 24.1Mt and an inferred resource of 9.7Mt.

Based on the success of geological model, Cockatoo plans to prepare a conceptual mine plan. Negotiations are continuing to secure a stockpile and train loading facility on the Moura railway line to the port of Gladstone where it plans to export 1Mt of coal per annum.

Cockatoo has a market capitalisation of $31.6 million and was trading at 16c this morning.

Waratah Coal

With a strategy of exploring deeper deposits where mining has historically taken place but may have been overlooked, Waratah shares similarities with Cockatoo, in that its recently granted Bindaree tenement lies towards the south of the Bowen Basin where limited exploration has taken place.

Only securing the 100%-owned Bindaree in December last year, the Toronto-listed explorer has identified coal seams in excess of 5m net thickness with the type and quality of the coal yet to be determined.

There appears to be potential exploration upside, with Waratah further boosted by the additional identification of coal seams in an identical stratigraphic position in other mineral exploration drillholes in Bindaree.

“Importantly, the stratigraphic sequence targeted by Waratah also hosts significant coal seams along strike to the north, which are currently the subject of exploration drill programs by major coal companies,” Waratah said in a statement in December last year.

Overall, Waratah has secured some 110km of strike extension with “good” coal exploration potential. Currently, the company is completing standard government agreements before it launches its 2007 exploration program.

Waratah listed on the Toronto Ventures Stock Exchange in May last year and was last trading at $C1.40.

Bowen Energy

The youngest of the public-listed coal exploration companies in the Bowen Basin, Bowen Energy listed at a 30% premium to its 20c issue price in January.

Claiming to be more of an explorer than a producer, Bowen Energy’s strategy is to prove up resources in its tenements and then grab an experienced miner to develop the project.

“We have no plans to mine the coal ourselves. That’s for someone else with deeper pockets than we’ve got,” managing director Kevin Nichol said in a statement last month.

The company holds over 1400 square kilometre of exploration ground in the Bowen Basin close to major mines operated by BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata and Anglo Coal.

Its flagship project in the region, East Middlemount, has indicated coal at depths of more than 200m in the Cockatoo and Richfield properties within the project.

Resources investor Rocklands Richfields will farm-in to the latter property by spending $527,050 over three years to earn a 60% interest.

Bowen Energy’s market capitalisation is currently at $9.5 million and was trading at 33.5c this morning.

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