Assessment process for mining proposals

Mining activities are tightly controlled in NSW. 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 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 those 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 Resources Regulator is one of several key government agencies who are consulted as part of the development consent determination process for new coal and mineral developments. The Regulator is responsible for commenting primarily on rehabilitation, including final land use and environmental outcomes upon completion of mining.

If mining development is approved by the consent authority, conditions are imposed on the development consent 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 1992.

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.

Under the conditions of the mining lease, a security deposit is required to be provided to the department that covers the full rehabilitation costs. This requirement ensures that the NSW Government does not incur financial liabilities in the event a mining lease holder defaults on their rehabilitation obligations.

Mine rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is the treatment or management of land or water that has been disturbed by mining to ensure a safe, stable environment is established. Rehabilitation supports the re-establishment of native ecosystems, groundwater systems, agriculture and a variety of rural, urban and industrial land uses.

In practice, rehabilitation can cover a range of activities such as:

  • demolition of infrastructure
  • sealing mine entries and boreholes
  • remediating contaminated land
  • capping tailings dams
  • geotechnical stabilisation
  • making safe infrastructure that may be retained for future use, such as buildings and heritage items
  • groundwater and surface water treatment
  • establishing a final landform
  • revegetation

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

Regulatory system for rehabilitation

The Regulator is responsible for regulating rehabilitation under the Mining Act 1992 and the conditions of the relevant mining lease. This includes:

  • ensuring rehabilitation is carried out progressively, that is, as soon as reasonably practicable following disturbance
  • ensuring rehabilitation achieves the approved rehabilitation objectives and rehabilitation completion criteria
  • requiring proponents to prepare and implement a mining operations plan (MOP)/rehabilitation management plan (RMP)
  • requiring proponents to prepare and submit an annual rehabilitation report that demonstrates how rehabilitation is progressing against approved performance measures and timeframes
  • ensuring rehabilitation activities achieve the final post-mining landform and land use(s) approved under the development consent
  • monitoring and enforcing rehabilitation activities to ensure that exploration and mining-affected land is left in a safe and stable condition.

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

The Regulator uses a range of regulatory tools under the Mining Act 1992 to ensure that rehabilitation is undertaken in a timely manner and in accordance with approved commitments. This includes being able to direct a former holder of a mining lease to complete rehabilitation works even after a mining title has been relinquished.

Rehabilitation security bonds

A rehabilitation security bond must also be provided before mining activities begin. As of March 2020, the NSW Government held about $3.1 billion in security bonds for rehabilitation of exploration and mining impacts. The security deposit covers the full cost of all rehabilitation and mine closure activities required if a mining company defaults on their rehabilitation obligations.

Before a security bond is returned the mining company must provide evidence to demonstrate to the Regulator that they:

  • have met the rehabilitation objectives
  • have achieved the rehabilitation completion criteria
  • have implemented the final landform and final land use.

Visit our rehabilitation security deposits page to learn more.