Mining leases and regulation
The regulation of mining
A mining lease gives the holder the exclusive right to mine for minerals over a specific area of land. In New South Wales, mining leases are granted under the provisions of the Mining Act 1992. To be granted a mining lease, applicants must demonstrate that:
- there is an economically mineable mineral deposit within the area of the proposed lease, and
- they have the financial and technical resources to carry out mining in a responsible manner.
A development consent under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) must also be in place before a mining lease can be granted.
The assessment process for new mines and modifications to existing projects
Mining activities are tightly controlled in NSW, with a range of authorisations required prior to the commencement of operations.
The mining lease, together with other statutory approvals, such as environment protection licences under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and planning approvals under the EP&A Act, regulate the impact of mining on the environment.
The EP&A Act establishes the development assessment and approval framework for exploration and mining activities.
All new mining projects, and modifications to existing projects, require approval under the EP&A Act before they can commence. As part of this approval process, the proponent must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. This is a comprehensive document that covers issues such as air quality, noise, transport, flora and fauna, surface and ground water management, methods of mining, landscape management and rehabilitation. Extensive public consultation is also required, with community members encouraged to make submissions on the application.
NSW Department of Planning and Environment is one of a number of key government agencies who are consulted as part of the approvals process for new mining and petroleum developments.
The Department of Regional NSW is responsible for commenting on rehabilitation, safety, resource-use and relevant environmental management matters.
The comprehensive assessment process considers a broad range of environmental issues including water, aquifers, alternative uses of the land and whether the proposed development is in the best interests of the state. The ecological sustainability of the development, including inter-generational equity and environmental, social and economic factors is also considered.
If a project is approved, conditions on approvals are imposed to minimise potential environmental impacts. In addition, rehabilitation and environmental performance conditions are also attached to all authorities (exploration and mining) issued under the Mining Act 1992.
The NSW Government is committed to ensuring that all mining operations meet strict standards for environmental management. These standards are regulated by the Department of Regional NSW, Resources Regulator to ensure compliance with the Mining Act 1992 and the associated Mining Regulation 2016. This includes:
- reviewing environmental impact assessments for proposed exploration and mining activities
- promoting compliance through site inspections, audits (both mandatory and voluntary) and regular reporting
- regulating rehabilitation and supervising mine closures
- investigating complaints and incidents
- taking appropriate enforcement action for non-compliance
- coordinating with other relevant government departments and agencies to respond to non-compliances
- reviewing environmental performance prior to the granting of an authorisation.
Mines can be classified as being in a state of 'suspended mining operations’ if they stop production. Title holders can only suspend mining operations with the written consent of the Department and must continue to undertake progressive rehabilitation and environmental monitoring, unless specifically stipulated in the consent to suspend. More information about suspension of mining operations can be found in the Suspension of Mining Operations Policy.
The NSW Government seeks to improve the health and safety of the mining industry by providing a framework and direction for industry to manage risks through consultation and safe systems.
The Department of Regional NSW Resources Regulator is responsible for enforcing safety standards with the aim of achieving zero fatalities and a reduction in serious bodily injuries in the mining industry.
The Mine Safety Investigation Unit investigates serious incidents or reported breaches of the legislation if they occur. These investigations aim to discover the underlying causes and system failures that can lead to a serious workplace incident, and generally result in a detailed report being prepared and published with a view to improving the safety knowledge base of the industry. More information about the NSW Resources Regulator’s regulatory approach is set out in the Compliance and Enforcement Approach.
The Department of Regional NSW Resources Regulator is responsible for ensuring that land disturbed by mining operations is returned to a sustainable post-mining land use.
Mining-affected land can be rehabilitated to a variety of land uses including cropping and agriculture, native ecosystems, forestry, industry, heritage sites, residential developments and mixed land uses.
The government has clear requirements for rehabilitation in NSW.
Under the Mining Act 1992, the Resources Regulator has a wide range of powers for regulating rehabilitation including:
- environmental management and rehabilitation conditions on mining titles
- rehabilitation security bonds for all mining and exploration titles
- clear enforcement powers to ensure titleholders holders comply with their obligations.
Title holders are required to demonstrate that the rehabilitation of land and water disturbed by mining is safe and stable, and can support the future final land uses approved through the development consent and their rehabilitation management plan required under the Mining Regulation 2016.
For all prospecting and mining titles granted under the Mining Act 1992, and petroleum titles granted under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991, a security deposit condition requires the title holder to provide the Department of Regional NSW with a security deposit which covers the government's full costs to rehabilitate the land if a title holder cannot meet their rehabilitation obligations. The title holder is required to provide the department with an estimate of rehabilitation costs. The department will consider this estimate when determining the amount of the security deposit required for a title, or group of titles.
The department requires title holders to progressively rehabilitate the land over the life of the exploration, mining or production operations. The department may release part of the security deposit when the title holder can prove they have successfully rehabilitated the land.
The Resources Regulator is responsible for determining when rehabilitation has met the required standard, taking into account post-mining land use, prior to title relinquishment and security deposit release.