Friday, 01 February 2013 13:30
Northern Territory Chief Minister Terry Mills is making a last minute dash to Europe in a bid to stop mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd from closing its giant Gove refinery.
Mr Mills has been in talks in Perth with gas companies including Eni, GDF Suez and Santos as he tries to find a way to send gas to Gove, which could enable Rio to maintain its alumina refinery.
There are fears the outback town of Nhulunbuy, near the refinery and associated bauxite mine, could see its population plunge and economy destroyed if a decision is made to close the alumina operation.
The town's population is estimated at about 3800 and the refinery employs about 1200 people.
"This is not just a Territory issue but an issue of national significance and I will be flying to Canberra on Monday before departing for Europe," Mr Mills said on Friday.
"I will continue to work around the clock, knock on every door, and turn over every stone to reach a deal and create certainty for the Nhulunbuy community and the Territory", Mr Mills said in a statement.
A review of the Gove refinery is underway, and analysts estimate the high Australian dollar and low aluminium price means the plant is losing $US30 million per month.
A decision by Rio Tinto, which runs the facility via its subsidiary Pacific Aluminium, on whether to keep running the refinery is expected within days.
The Territory government has been trying to find a way to get natural gas to the Gove refinery, which currently runs on diesel, to make the operation profitable.
But there have been fears that supplying Rio Tinto with enough gas to run the refinery would leave the Territory without enough for its own domestic needs.
An earlier proposal from the government to allocate to Rio the 300 petajoules of gas it needs over 10 years, so long as a replacement gas supply was made available, was rejected by Pacific Aluminium.
The company sought an unconditional commitment to supply the gas.
Dave Suter from the Nhulunbuy Chamber of Commerce and Industry said he was satisfied Mr Mills was doing all he could to save the refinery.
"Whether it pans out or not I don't think we will ever say he didn't try," Mr Suter said.
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