"We're Gonna Have Lots of Fun": Meet the WA Mining Billionaire You've Never Heard Of

“We’re Gonna Have Lots of Fun”: Meet the WA Mining Billionaire You’ve Never Heard Of

“If you look back over the last 40 to 50 years, this is the raw material that has produced the three or four largest mining companies in the world,” he said.

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“It’s a cash generator, once you get it up and running it’s relatively easy, there’s not a lot of technology to be an iron ore mine.”

Iron ore exports also made the fortunes of Australia’s two richest people: Gina Rinehart of Hancock Prospecting and Andrew Forrest of Fortescue.

Once the deposit is found, the key to Pilbara’s iron ore wealth lies in its railroad and port capacity, and the majors – BHP and Rio Tinto – must not be shared. Forrest built his own railroad after years of fighting in court over access to existing track, and Roy Hill, 70 percent owned by Rinehart, followed suit, laying out the Pilbara’s fourth private railroad network.

In February the WA Government released the last available capacity at Port Hedland, including a berth for newcomers.

“We have the majority of it, Hancock has a minority interest in it, we used that as currency,” Ellison said. In exchange for an equal share of berth capacity, MinRes gained access to the Roy Hill railway, which will replace the costly hauling of ore to shore.

A five-hour drive east MinRes has to build its own infrastructure for its new Onslow Iron project, but it’s doing so as cheaply as possible. Driverless road trains will operate a 150km private haul road to Onslow to load small ‘transshippers’ that haul the ore to serviced bulkers, avoiding the need to dredge an expensive shipping canal.

A possible flaw in the plan is that the haul road passes through Minderoo Station, the childhood home of Forrest, who has gone to court more than once to ironically keep it free from mining activity.

“I see no problem with that,” Ellison said, perhaps hopefully.

MinRes’ next venture — gas production — was fueled by Ellison’s desire to secure power for its mines and lithium refineries.

There was early success with the Lockyer Deep-1 well drilled a year ago in the Perth Basin about 230km north of the capital and the odds are MinRes will have a lot more gas than it needs.

“Do you ever get tired of anything, does a girl have enough handbags?”

Mineral Resources CEO Chris Ellison isn’t ruling out securing more gas from the Perth Basin with M and A.

Ellison said he is not considering supplying an LNG plant that would require an exemption from the McGowan government’s export ban on onshore gas.

In 2020, the Prime Minister of WA controversially granted permission for the nearby Waitsia field, in which Kerry Stokes, chairman of the state’s dominant media company SevenWest has a large stake through Beach Energy, to export its first five years of production.

“I don’t want to stir this pot,” Ellison said.

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Instead, Ellison looks at the energy-intensive process of processing low-grade magnetite iron ore and using gas to produce ammonia and urea.

“It’s much, much cleaner than burning coal, it’s a lot cleaner than burning diesel,” he said.

Ellison’s endorsement of gas places him between the other two much wealthier iron billionaires in WA at more than $30 billion compared to his $1.8 billion stake in MinRes.

He spoke on the same day that climate change skeptic and aspiring coal miner Rinehart sat at Donald Trump’s launch of the US presidency, a prospect he greeted with “God help us.”

However, his plans to produce gas for decades would be heresy to Forrest, who aims for Fortescue to have net-zero emissions in eight years and said at last week’s COP 27 climate conference there was no excuse for companies not to over move away from fossil fuels.

The highly prospective Perth Basin was the scene of a spate of mergers and acquisitions in November. Strike Energy’s offer for its joint venture partner, Warrego, was accompanied by a cash offer from Beach Energy, and many expect further action.

“We’ve got our eye on it,” Ellison said despite the success of Lockyer Deep.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t interested.”

“Have you ever had enough of anything? Does a girl have enough handbags?”

Ellison’s analogy may have been inspired by his high-profile tenure of 2022, former Secretary of State Julie Bishop, as a strategic adviser.

Mineral Resources CEO Chris Ellison was “the fisherman” in a corporate campaign to promote the individuality of its workforce.Recognition:natural resources

More tactical than strategic, their first outing starred in a camp comedy video that introduced MinRes workers to their luxurious new headquarters in Perth’s seedy Osborne Park, best known for truck stops and furniture stores.

The gym, mental health support, medical suite and restaurant serving $8 grab-and-go dinner position MinRes well in WA’s competitive job market for employers.

Better accommodation is the carrot for many of MinRes’ nearly 5,000 employees who fly in and out.

“The standard local donga is a bit like a prison, has a little square window and is a bit like a shithole,” he said.

Ellison’s alternative is a “resort style” room three times larger with a queen bed at four times the price, and the first batch of 1000 have been ordered.

There have already been changes at the top of the company, with four of Ellison’s six direct reports joining MinRes in the last four years.

The focus on people spawned a tome-like annual report adorned with images of employees and their unemployed pursuits, from Ellison the fisherman, an electrician gamer and an IT bonsai artist.

Following the AGM, Macquarie named MinRes as its preferred company in the broader resource sector, with lithium prices now buoyant and longer-term organic growth options.

But concluding his AGM speech, Ellison wasn’t in sell mode: “So that’s sort of a summary of our business, sorry if I’ve bored you to death for a while.”

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