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Whitehaven shares soar on mine approval

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SYDNEY, Feb 12 AAP

February 12 2013, 10:23AM

Shares in Whitehaven Coal have gained almost 10 per cent after its Maules Creek mine in NSW received conditional environmental approval.

Days after saying a decision on environmental approval had been delayed to April 30, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke on Monday granted conditional approval for the Maules Creek and nearby Boggabri mine proposals in northwest NSW.

The approvals remain subject to strict conditions requiring wildlife corridors, limits on the clearance of native vegetation and a $2.5 million investment in rehabilitation research for threatened species.

But investors have welcomed the news, sending Whitehaven shares up 25 cents, or 8.5 per cent, to $3.21 by 1016 AEDT.

The company's shares plunged last week when Mr Burke said he had delayed his decision on Maules Creek, reaching a low of $2.96.

Analysts expect the conditions on the environmental approval to be met and construction work to begin as soon as possible.

Patersons analyst Andrew Harrington said he expects production to begin at Maules Creek in about 15 months.

"This is the last hurdle for Maules Creek, which is a very large long-life mine," he said.

"Whitehaven is the standout of the ASX-listed coal producers because it has the most production growth, has all rail and port allocations for its expansions, and has all its funding for these expansions.

"The expected weakness of the upcoming half yearly result should not detract from what is going to be a company with several profitable, long-life mines."

Maules Creek is expected to produce 10.8 million tonnes of a coal a year (Mtpa) of thermal and coking coal.