FORTESCUE Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest says a permit being pursued by a small resources company to explore parts of his Pilbara cattle station will result in unacceptable dust and stress to livestock.
But it hasn't stopped Fortescue from applying to explore the same ground.
The case is becoming a watershed for Western Australia's competitive tenement pegging system where a company applies or marks out a territory it wants to explore for minerals.
A junior uranium explorer, Cauldron Energy, applied to explore three tenements on the historic Forrest family station in Western Australia.
Mr Forrest and his brother David objected on a number of grounds that included the impact on grazing; dust impact from drilling; stress to cattle; and impact on water quality.
Meanwhile, as the Forrest family made these arguments in the State's mining warden's court, which oversees tenement disputes, Fortescue applied to explore much of the same ground.
The WA Mining Act's "next in line" principle meant Fortescue would pick up the tenement if Cauldron was refused. Cauldron chairman Tony Sage said it was unlikely Fortescue would look for minerals on the Minderoo tenements.
"Presumably they are not going to dig it up," Mr Sage said.
Tenement tracking systems show five other Minderoo tenements that Fortescue pegged several years ago – and that were objected to by the Forrest family – were recently dropped without any exploration activity.
It appeared to be a manoeuvre that prohibited rival miners from pursuing exploration programs at Minderoo, critics say.
A Fortescue spokeswoman said the company would assess what it intended to do with the Minderoo tenements in due course.
"Fortescue considers the Pilbara highly prospective for minerals and accordingly applies for exploration tenure across areas of interest on a regular basis," the spokeswoman said.
Pastoralists, including the Minderoo operators, often oppose exploration applications in the warden's court in order to trigger discussions over the terms of access to the property.
In the Cauldron case, the Forrest family argued the dust and environmental damage risks were too great, and the small listed company did not have the financial resources to pursue an exploration program.
In a decision handed down in February, the warden agreed, and recommended WA's Mines Minister, Bill Marmion, not grant an exploration licence to Cauldron. This could hand control of some tenements to Fortescue. The warden's decision has angered some in the junior exploration sector, who say a junior explorer often raises capital for exploration after securing tenement rights.
"This is the most damaging decision by any warden ever in the history of Western Australia," Mr Sage said.
Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive Simon Bennison said he wanted more information before deciding whether to approach the minister with his concerns. "There are issues in this and we need to understand whether the warden understands the industry and its funding cycles," Mr Bennison said.