Bird’s eye

Aerial views of Rio’s cop­per play

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER - Ben Har­vey

The first clear pic­tures of Rio Tinto’s ac­tiv­i­ties in an area of the East Pil­bara ru­moured to host one of the world’s great cop­per de­posits have emerged.

Satel­lite pic­tures show­ing a drilling cam­paign have for months stoked spec­u­la­tion that Rio has dis­cov­ered a jaw-drop­ping cop­per re­source in the re­mote Pater­son prov­ince.

An ap­pli­ca­tion to build an airstrip, which ob­servers say will cost at least $10 mil­lion, was more grist to the rumour mill be­cause it ap­peared to con­firm a re­source that jus­ti­fied sig­nif­i­cant out­lay.

To­day’s crys­tal-clear pho­tos taken from a low-fly­ing plane will likely see that spec­u­la­tion reach fever pitch as the scale of the drilling pro­gram be­comes clear.

The pho­tos show a 40 or 50-per­son camp manned by work­ers from drilling com­pa­nies DDH1 and Tite­line, a he­li­copter land­ing pad, about two dozen don­gas, drilling rigs, drill ponds and a core farm in which sam­ples are in­spected.

Rio is stay­ing mum about what is hap­pen­ing over the 10,000sqkm that it has pegged all the way up to 80 Mile Beach, be­tween Port Hed­land and Broome.

“We have an ex­ten­sive ex­plo­ration pro­gram glob­ally and we are cur­rently work­ing in 16 coun­tries look­ing for eight com­modi­ties,” a Rio spokesper­son said yes­ter­day.

“This in­cludes ex­plo­ration teams work­ing in a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in Aus­tralia and one of th­ese is in the Pater­son re­gion of West­ern Aus­tralia.”

While de­clin­ing to com­ment on specifics about what is hap­pen­ing in the East Pil­bara, Rio has not pub­licly de­nied re­ports that last year’s drilling cam­paign de­tected pri­mary cop­per 40m un­der­ground and vis­i­ble min­er­al­i­sa­tion to 180m.

Healthy early read­ings saw the com­pany lock up as much land as it could in De­cem­ber.

Rio’s size pre­cludes its share price from mov­ing too much on the back of ru­mours but the con­tin­u­ing spec­u­la­tion has not stopped nearol­ogy plays en­joy­ing mo­ments in the sun. Fortes­cue Met­als Group is the big­gest player be­sides Rio but ASX tid­dlers also have a piece of the ac­tion.

High-vol­ume trad­ing last week put a rocket un­der the price of An­tipa Min­er­als and Sipa Re­sources, the wild ride ex­pe­ri­enced by the for­mer trig­ger­ing a query from the Aus­tralian Se­cu­ri­ties Ex­change.

An­tipa’s share price rose 29 per cent on the back of its 5500sqkm hold­ing near Rio’s ten­e­ments. An­tipa has an ex­plo­ration joint ven­ture agree­ment with Rio in the area.

The com­pany yes­ter­day closed up an­other 13.64 per cent at 2.5¢. Sipa rose 10 per cent on the back of in­vestor in­ter­est in its ground-hold­ing be­ing sur­rounded on all sides by Rio and Fortes­cue ten­e­ments. Sipa yes­ter­day closed flat at 1¢.

The work­ers’ camp in the East Pil­bara where Rio Tinto is ru­moured to have made a big cop­per dis­cov­ery.

A hes­sian tent ap­pears to pro­tect a core farm.

The he­li­copter pad.

A drilling rig next to ponds.

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