In New South Wales, an authorisation under the Mining Act 1992 (the Mining Act) must be granted by the Minister for Resources before anyone can prospect, explore for or mine privately and publicly owned minerals, whether on Crown or private land. Before a mining lease can be granted, development consent must be obtained under the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979.

For information regarding production of petroleum (including coal seam gas) refer to Petroleum Production.

Assessment process for mining proposals

Mining activities are tightly controlled in New South Wales. The mining lease, together with other statutory approvals, such as environmental protection licences under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and planning approvals under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the EP&A Act), regulate the impact of mining on the environment.

New mining projects and any expansion of existing projects require development consent under the EP&A Act. All new coal mines, mineral sand mines, proposed mines in environmentally sensitive areas of State significance and mines with capital investment of more than $30 million are considered State Significant Development and require approval from the Minister for Planning (see the State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011 ).

Smaller metalliferous, non-coal, clay and limestone mines usually require development consent from the local council as integrated development.

As part of the assessment process under the EP&A Act, proponents are required to prepare and submit a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement that addresses all potential impacts of the proposal, including potential impacts on water resources, air quality, noise, biodiversity and local communities. In all cases, extensive public consultation is required, including thorough consultation with community and local government, before any application is considered by the consent authority.

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Division of Resources and Geoscience (the Division), is one of a number of key government agencies who are consulted as part of the approvals process for new coal and mineral developments. The Division is responsible for commenting primarily on land and water rehabilitation, resource utilisation and relevant environmental outcomes on mine closure.

If a project is approved by the consent authority, conditions are imposed to minimise potential environmental impacts and optimise the economic and social outcomes for the project. Furthermore, rehabilitation requirements and environmental performance conditions are also attached to all mining leases issued under the Mining Act and financial securities are imposed that guarantee the rehabilitation is completed for ensuring productive use of the land following mine closure.

While the NSW Government encourages sustainable development of our natural resources, regulatory powers are in place to ensure that the impacts of mining activities are appropriately assessed and regulated.

For more information on the assessment process under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, please refer to the Department of Planning & Environment website.

Mine rehabilitation

Rehabilitation as defined by the Mining Act means the treatment or management of disturbed land or water for the purpose of establishing a safe and stable environment. This relates to both exploration and mining projects where the land is restored to a sustainable and productive useful purpose.

The scope of rehabilitation activities covers a broad range of components that need to be addressed to establish a safe and stable environment following the closure of a mining operation. The scope of rehabilitation activities includes but is not necessarily limited to demolition of surface infrastructure; remediation of contaminated land; capping of tailings dams; final landform establishment; geotechnical stabilisation; sealing of mine entries and boreholes; removal of ore pads; amelioration of soils for revegetation and revegetation works.

Rehabilitation is effectively another phase of mining, which is undertaken both progressively over the life of the mine as well as at cessation of mining (i.e. total life cycle of a mine).

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.

Read more in the Exploration and mining rehabilitation fact sheet [PDF 175 KB].

Regulatory System for Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation commitments and post mining land use objectives for mining development are established as part of the development approval/EIS phase of a mining project and approved by a determining authority such as Department of Planning and Environment or a local council under the Environment Planning & Assessment Act 1979. The Division’s role under the Mining Act is to regulate rehabilitation activities to ensure that the post-mining land uses of a development approval issued under the Environment Planning & Assessment Act 1979 are met.

The Division’s regulatory approach to rehabilitation is outcomes focused whilst being flexible to allow for industry to develop and implement innovative and best practice methodologies specific to a site.

The key elements of the Division’s regulatory approach to rehabilitation are listed below.

  • titleholders are required to develop and implement a Mining Operations Plan (MOP), soon to be called a Rehabilitation Management Plan (RMP), which includes the following:
    • objectives and criteria for rehabilitation that are required to be met for rehabilitation before the Division will relinquish the mining lease and any associated rehabilitation security bond;
    • proposed rehabilitation plans including a progressive rehabilitation schedule for the entire life cycle of a mine;
    • defined key risks and opportunities that need to be addressed to achieve successful rehabilitation;
    • the range of risk-based rehabilitation controls and methodologies;
    • detailed monitoring programs designed to measure performance and compliance against the criteria as well as promote adaptive management processes.
  • in regard to exploration activities, titleholders are required to comply with a Rehabilitation Code and conditions of an exploration authorisation;
  • authorisation holders are required to report on the performance of rehabilitation on an annual basis against MOP/RMP and development approval commitments.

Proposals to improve the rehabilitation framework for major mining projects are currently on exhibition. For more information and to make a submission, go to the Department of Planning and Environment website.  Submissions will close on 16 February 2018.

Feedback received will be used to inform the development of new policy and actions to improve rehabilitation and post mining land use outcomes for major mining projects.

Environmental incident reporting

Authorisations granted under the Mining Act include an environmental incident reporting condition. This condition requires the lease holder to "report any incidents causing or threatening material harm to the environment". Refer to the Resources and Geoscience Guideline ESB28 – Environmental Incident Reporting Requirements PDF (66 KB PDF).

The Resources Regulator is responsible for investigating community complaints and environmental incidents relating to mining development. A range of compliance and enforcement mechanisms are available in accordance with government's legislative and policy framework including penalty infringement notices and, if required, prosecution. The enforcement approach to non-compliance depends upon the nature or consequences of the non-compliance and the previous performance of the authorisation holder, including responses to previous notices or sanctions.

For information on how a member of the public may lodge a complaint or report an incident, please refer to Complaints and incident reporting by the public.

Rehabilitation security

It is the responsibility of the Division to ensure that land disturbed by mining activities is returned to a sustainable post-mining land use.

A security deposit that covers the full rehabilitation costs is required on all authorisations. This requirement ensures that the NSW Government does not incur financial liabilities in the event of an authorisation holder defaulting on their rehabilitation obligations.

The authorisation holder is required to provide an estimate of rehabilitation costs for consideration when determining the security deposit amount. The amount must be consistent with the stage of the mine and for significant mining projects the security amount is reviewed annually.

The Division will assess and determine when rehabilitation obligations have been met and the security deposit can be released. Partial release of the security deposits may occur when successful rehabilitation has been demonstrated for part of the site.

A Rehabilitation Cost Estimation Tool and Rehabilitation Cost Estimation Tool Handbook is available to assist in calculating the security deposit for a site.

For further information
Compliance Operations
+61 (0)2 4063 6666
+61 (0)2 4063 6977 (attn: Compliance Operations)
Compliance Operations, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Resources Regulator, PO Box 344 Hunter Region Mail Centre NSW 2310
516 High Street Maitland NSW 2320 Map