WHITEHAVEN COAL'S woes continued on Thursday as the federal government deferred until April a decision on the controversial Maules Creek mine in the Gunnedah Basin.
Whitehaven has had a difficult start to the year, suffering a sharemarket hoax, a profit downgrade and strike action scheduled for Friday by members of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union. The company's shares dropped 17¢ to $3.02.
The proposed Maules Creek open-cut mine is important for Whitehaven and was approved after a two-year process by the NSW government last August. After being reviewed by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee, the project is awaiting federal approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. A decision on expansion of its adjacent Boggabri mine, a joint venture with Japan's Idemitsu, was also deferred.
A statement from the federal environment department said that as the Maules Creek and Boggabri projects were close together, it was "appropriate that their respective impacts are assessed in parallel, to look at their cumulative impacts".
The Whitehaven managing director, Tony Haggarty, said he was "extremely disappointed" at the delay and was "not aware of any substantive issues with the environmental evaluations or process which has been followed".
Lawrence Grech, an analyst at PhillipCapital, said it was unclear whether the hold-up was for "substantive reasons that may threaten approval or whether it is merely procedural issues".