Mining leases and regulation
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.
All new mines are subject to rigorous assessment and approval processes under the EP&A Act.
All new coal mines, mineral sand mines, other large mines and any mines in environmentally sensitive areas of State significance are classified as State Significant Development under the EP&A Act.
Regulation of mining
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. The Environmental Impact Statement is a comprehensive document that covers issues such as air quality, noise, transport, flora and fauna, surface and groundwater 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, Industry and Environment (the Department) is one of a number of key government agencies that are consulted as part of the approvals process for new coal and mineral developments. We are responsible for commenting on rehabilitation, safety, resource-utilisation and relevant environmental management matters.
The comprehensive merit-based 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. Furthermore, 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 contemporary standards for environmental management.
The Resources Regulator is uniquely placed within the Department to assist in the advancement of environmental management in exploration and mining.
The Resources Regulator encourages the adoption of best practice in mining and a key responsibility includes regulating the industry to ensure compliance with the Mining Act 1992 and 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; and
- reviewing environmental performance prior to the granting of an authorisation.
The Resources Regulator also promotes effective stakeholder liaison and facilitate communication between government, the mining industry and the community.
Improving the safety and health performance of the NSW mining industry is a priority for the NSW Government.
The role of the Mine Safety Board (MSB) is to provide the framework and direction for industry to manage risks through consultation and safe systems. MSB works closely with employers, employees and their representatives, other government agencies and the community to promote best practice in the area of mine safety.
Through the assessment of appropriate safety systems, processes and standards, MSB enforces efficient and effective implementation, encouraging those who exceed minimum standards and holding accountable those who do not. MSB aims to significantly improve the safety performance and culture of the industry through communication strategies and reporting performance outcomes.
MSB has a strategic approach to achieve the Government's aim of zero fatalities in the mining industry. Over time, MSB has had success with this goal and played a key role in the reduction of fatalities and serious bodily injuries in the mining industry.
The Mine Safety Investigation Unit may be called upon to investigate serious incidents or reported breaches of the legislation if they occur. Such an investigation aims to discover the underlying causes and system failures that can lead to a serious workplace incident and generally results in a detailed report being prepared and published with a view to improving the safety knowledge base of the industry. The Enforcement Policy is also applied in respect of investigation findings.
Work is currently underway to finalise the implementation of new mine safety legislation in line with the national harmonisation of WHS legislation.
It is our responsibility to ensure 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, we have 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; and
- clear enforcement powers to ensure titleholders comply with their obligations.
Titleholders must also submit and comply with an approved Mine Operations Plan (including a rehabilitation plan), which is used for detailed rehabilitation planning and for monitoring rehabilitation progress and success. They are also required to submit security bonds for exploration, petroleum and mining titles, which cover the full cost of rehabilitation in the event of default by the titleholder.
Rehabilitation must be undertaken progressively over the life of the mine.
We have responsibility for determining when rehabilitation has met the required standard, taking into account post-mining land use, prior to title relinquishment and security deposit release.
We will continue to collaborate with industry and the community to achieve positive rehabilitation outcomes and a sustainable mining industry.