Slow approach: North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation has taken a long-term view on development of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal. Photo: Glenn Hunt
RIO Tinto's withdrawal from the $9 billion expansion of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal near Bowen has not undermined the project, according to its master planner, the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation.
In December Rio was named as one of six ''preferred respondents'' to develop terminals T4 to T9 at Abbot Point, lifting its capacity from 50 million tonnes to 385 million tonnes per annum - which would make it one of the largest coal ports in the world.
But a fortnight ago Rio confirmed it would withdraw from the project, citing uncertain global economic markets, cost pressures and long timeframes for regulatory approvals.
In an interview last week, the chief executive of the state-owned NQBP, Brad Fish, told BusinessDay ''we're in no hurry'' and the development ''was always going to be slower than industry was contemplating''.
''We never expected all the projects to proceed at one time,'' he said. ''I'd be surprised if [the last terminal] was built in the next 15 years.''
The five other preferred respondents were Anglo American, Vale, Waratah Coal, Macmines and a consortium of Peabody, New Hope, Middlemount Coal and Carabella Resources.
NQBP said it had expected to finalise framework agreements with each of the preferred respondents by the end of March but had extended the timeframe.
NQBP said it was still in talks with the majority of T4-T9 preferred respondents, as well as negotiations with a preferred constructor for an associated multi-cargo facility at Abbot Point.
NQBP said it was reviewing options should any proponents not proceed with their proposed project, but Mr Fish said ''even if half of them were to leave the process, it wouldn't stop the project at all''. It would take at least five years to get the new terminals built, he said.
Mr Fish said underlying demand for both thermal and metallurgical coal would remain strong although there would ''undoubtedly'' be market troughs over the next 5-10 years.
He said some companies were pushing coal projects back.
''Where they thought they might have had a mine coming on-stream in 2020, it's slipped out to 2024.''