The future of the massive Abbot Point Coal Terminal is in doubt after main supporter Rio Tinto has pulled out of development.
The $6.2 billion expansion of the coal port would see four additional coal terminals built; providing an extra annual capacity of 120 million tonnes and supporting developments in the Bowen, Surat, and Galilee Basins of Queensland.
Rio is believed to have pulled out of the development due to ‘economic uncertainty’, the Daily Mercury reports.
"Rio Tinto withdrew from the current process for the potential development of additional port capacity at Abbot Point, due to changes in the economic environment and the commitments required to progress the option," a Rio Tinto spokesperson said.
"Global economic markets have shifted to a period of significant uncertainty and we continue to see both a sustained upward pressure on costs and long timeframes for regulatory approvals."
However the miner has not ruled out future participation.
"Rio Tinto would welcome the opportunity to participate in further discussions should key elements of the Abbot Point proposal be revised in the future, such as the development model and scope of commitment required. Rio Tinto’s focus at present is evaluating potential alternatives to Abbot Point for additional port capacity."
Despite the move potentially threatening the future of the port, the region’s mayor Mike Brunker was unworried.
"I think it’s nothing to panic about.
"It’s cutting the weak from the strong," Brunker said, adding that a lot of other miners are eyeing the port as well.
However the member for Dawson, George Christensen, raised concerns over Brunker’s flippant attitude, saying that other miners may follow them out the door.
"There’s speculation BHP Billiton could be jittery on it (the expansion) as well."
Christensen said that continued government approval delays were the real reason behind Rio’s move, stating that these "approvals have been with the Federal Government since December 2010 until now".
"If (approval times) go on too long it will kill (the expansion).
Late last year the state government approved the ‘super expansion", with Queensland premier Anna Bligh saying overwhelming demand from miners for the Port’s development had widened plans for the expansion.
Bligh said while the Government had expected to approve an expansion from three terminals to seven, the spike in interest had taken the number up to nine.
She said in a statement the expansions would take the Port’s capacity to 400 million tonnes per annum and make it one of the largest coal export facilities in the world.