Skip to main content

A NSW Government website

Exploring in NSW

MEG Homepage Banner

Exploration in NSW

Exploration in NSW is regulated under the Mining Act 1992. The aim is to encourage and help in the discovery and development of NSW’s mineral and coal resources, and encourage ecologically sustainable development.

The Mining Act aims to:

  • recognise and foster the significant social and economic benefits to NSW that result from the efficient development of mineral and coal resources
  • provide an integrated framework for the effective regulation of authorisations for prospecting and mining operations
  • ensure mineral and coal resources are identified and developed in ways that minimise impacts on the environment.

Find out how to explore in NSW

For greater detail about how to explore, download the following:

Before exploring for minerals and coal in NSW, an explorer must obtain an exploration licence or assessment lease.

Exploration licence

An exploration licence gives the holder exclusive rights to explore for specific minerals within a designated area, for terms of up to 6 years. The purpose of exploration is to locate areas where mineral resources may be present, to establish the quality and quantity of those resources and to investigate the viability of extracting the resource.

An exploration licence does not permit mining and does not guarantee a mining lease will be granted.

There are standard and low-impact licences in NSW. A standard exploration licence permits the holder to carry out any exploration activity. A low-impact licence only authorises a limited range of exploration activities such as:

  • aerial surveys, geological and surveying field work that does not involve clearing
  • sampling by hand methods, ground-based geophysical surveys that do not involve clearing
  • drilling activities associated with drilling and the establishment of a drill site that do not involve clearing or excavation (other than the minimum necessary to establish a drill site)
  • environmental fieldwork that does not involve clearing.

For further details about what you need to do, go to forms, fees or advertising requirements, guidelines and policies

Assessment lease

An assessment lease is designed to cater for situations between exploration and mining. The lease allows the holder to maintain an authority over a potential project area whilst undertaking further assessment without having to commit to further intensive on-ground exploration. The holder can continue exploration to further assess the viability of commercial mining.

An assessment lease may be appropriate where:

  • a mineral resource has been well-defined in accordance with the Minimum standards for work programs (see below) and current commercial factors render mining unviable, although there are reasonable prospects of future mining, or
  • there are areas of mineral potential which are natural extensions to existing operations or projects at the appropriate time in the future.

To apply for an assessment lease go to our forms page.

Minimum Standards

The Minimum Standards for Work Programs and Technical and Financial Capability apply to applications for the grant, renewal and transfer of mineral and coal prospecting titles submitted from 1 January 2021.

The Minimum Standards provide the mandatory criteria decision-makers consider when assessing applications for the grant, renewal and transfer of mineral prospecting authorities under the Mining Act. They apply to an applicant’s technical and financial capability to carry out their proposed work program, and clearly set out the criteria applicants must meet to demonstrate their commitment to effective and sustainable exploration.

The applicant’s proposed work program must also nominate which of the following exploration stages will be worked in over the term of the title:

Exploration stages

Lodging an application

Exploration licences and assessment leases can be granted to any person over the age of 18, or company, with a satisfactory compliance history and environmental performance record. Details of the applicant's environmental performance record enables MEG to determine if the applicant has had any prior convictions under environmental protection legislation or has had environmental protection approvals revoked or suspended. 

Exploration licences or assessment leases may be held by a single holder or multiple holders (individuals or companies). 

Exploration licences and assessment leases may be granted for a maximum term of 6 years and may be renewed.

Applications must be lodged using the relevant form or electronically in the Titles Management System (TMS) with any attachments and payment of the prescribed fee.

We have published specific information such as guides and forms outlining how to submit an application.

Information must be included with an application for an exploration licence or an assessment lease:

  • for foreign entities, proof that the applicant is authorised to operate and carry out business in NSW
  • technical capability documentation
  • statements of compliance, environmental performance and financial history
  • the proposed work program
  • native title information
  • details of the area to be explored
  • for an allocated mineral within a mineral allocation area only – a copy of the Minister’s consent
  • written consent of the holders of any conflicting exploration licences.

An online version of the Statement of compliance, environmental performance and financial history form is available to be completed electronically through the Resources Regulator Portal.

Proposed work programs must be prepared in accordance with the Exploration Guideline: work programs for prospecting titles (PDF, 251.39 KB) and the Prospecting authority work program form (PDF, 2.01 MB).

Exploration licences and assessment leases can be granted on any onshore land in NSW, subject to some exceptions. Exploration licence applications for mineral groups except Group 9 (Coal) must describe the proposed exploration area by reference to a graticular system defined in Schedule 4 of the Mining Regulation.

Land access

While landholders in NSW own the surface land of their properties, most sub-surface minerals belong to the State of NSW. The mining of these minerals contributes royalties, economic benefits and energy security for the people of NSW.

Before an explorer who holds an exploration licence or assessment lease (collectively termed ‘prospecting titles’) can access land for exploration, a written land access arrangement must be made between the landholder and the prospecting title holder. The purpose of a land access arrangement is to ensure the orderly search for resources, while recognising the rights of landholders to conduct their activities without unreasonable interference or disturbance.

For more information relating to land access visit:

Title conditions

All exploration licences and assessment leases are granted, renewed and transferred subject to statutory conditions and other special conditions included in the title instrument.

The standard conditions relate to environmental protection, management and rehabilitation, compliance with codes of practice, community consultation, security deposits and reporting.

Exploration licences are subject to a statutory condition that states that explorers must not carry out assessable prospecting operations unless an activity approval has been first obtained. Some exploration activities may also be subject to additional environmental approvals, depending on the proposed activity.

Explorers can undertake exempt development exploration activities without the need for further approval once an exploration licence or assessment lease is granted.

Although there are obligations and conditions imposed on exploration licences and assessment leases under the Mining Act, there may be other obligations and approvals required under other legislation. For example, obligations and approvals may be required under the Fisheries Management Act 1994, Forestry Act 2012, National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, Water Act 1912 and Water Management Act 2000.

It is the responsibility of the title holder to identify, understand and comply with any other obligations.

For information about codes of practice you can look up information on:

Renewing a title

An exploration licence or an assessment lease may be renewed when the requirements for renewal have been met and doing so is consistent with the objects of the Mining Act.

MEG has developed an exploration licence renewal policy for minerals and for (PDF, 304.69 KB)coal.

To renew, title holders must demonstrate they are conducting their operations in an environmentally responsible manner and in accordance with their conditions.

Title holders must also demonstrate that rehabilitation is being carried out to the satisfaction of MEG. Renewal applications may be refused because of unsatisfactory environmental performance or because of failure to meet the conditions of the title.

Renewal applications must be lodged using the relevant form or electronically in the Titles Management System within the period of 3 months before the licence ceases to have effect, i.e. up to 3 months before the expiry date, including on the expiry date.


Holders of exploration licences and assessment leases must submit periodic reports on their exploration activities electronically.

For details on what title holders need to do go to our Exploration reporting for forms, guides and frequently asked questions.

Reporting of environmental incidents is a requirement for all exploration activities. Go to our Incident reporting page for full details.

The Resources Regulator is responsible for investigating community complaints and certain environmental incidents.

Rehabilitation and financial security

All exploration licence and assessment lease holders are required to lodge a security deposit (PDF, 182.29 KB).

The security deposit must cover the NSW Government’s full costs in undertaking rehabilitation in the event of default by the title holder. The title holder is required to provide MEG with an estimate of rehabilitation costs (PDF, 734.59 KB).

MEG is responsible for determining when rehabilitation has met the required standard, taking into account the rehabilitation objectives and completion criteria, before the title is relinquished and the security deposit released.

Title holders must undertake progressive rehabilitation (PDF, 138.28 KB) over the life of the project. Before relinquishing part or all of an exploration authority, the title holder must demonstrate that all environmental obligations have been met and that rehabilitation has achieved the required standards. The security deposit will be refunded once a rehabilitation completion report (PDF, 339.75 KB) has been submitted, showing rehabilitation is complete.

Transferring a licence or lease

An exploration licence or assessment lease can be transferred with the approval of the Minister. The exploration licence or assessment lease may be transferred wholly, or in part. The process for a transfer is similar to the grant and renewal process. After a transfer is approved, it does not take effect until it is registered. There are applications forms to apply for a transfer and to register a transfer.

Applications must be lodged using the relevant form or electronically in the Titles Management System (TMS) with any attachments and payment of the prescribed fee.