Skip to main content

A NSW Government website

Opal mining

Opal prospecting takes place pursuant to the conditions of an Opal Prospecting Licence or Mineral Claim. Opal mining takes place pursuant to the conditions of a Mineral Claim.

Opal Prospecting Licences and Mineral Claims are issued under the Mining Act 1992 by Mining, Exploration and Geoscience within the Department of Regional NSW.

The NSW Resources Regulator is then responsible for regulating environmental protection, rehabilitation, work health and safety at opal prospecting and mine sites.

The obligations that are regulated by the Resources Regulator include:

This short video, Regulating opal mining in Lightning Ridge, outlines the different roles and responsibilities that MEG and the Regulator play in administering and regulating small scale titles.

Opal mining compliance priorities January – December 2021

The Opal Mining Compliance Priorities (PDF, 2.5 MB) sets out our key compliance priorities for opal mining for 2021. The report also outlines our focus on reforms and improvement measures within the Lightning Ridge Mineral Claims District over the period including guidance material, training and the regulatory policy framework.

Further information on opal prospecting and mining:

Opal prospecting

Opal Prospecting Licences are granted over much larger areas than those granted under mineral claims but are purely for prospecting and do not authorise mining.

An Opal Prospecting Licence can only be granted over lands defined as an "Opal Prospecting Block" within an area designated under the Mining Act 1992 as an "Opal Prospecting Area". There are several Opal Prospecting Areas in the Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs Mineral Claims Districts.

Further details regarding Opal Prospecting Licences, Opal Prospecting Areas (OPAs), opal prospecting methods and opal prospecting reporting can be found at the Mining, Exploration and Geoscience website. 

Opal mining

Opal mining takes place within a Mineral Claim and may use underground or open cut mining methods. Mining generally occurs along defined low ridgelines (so called 'ridge country') where the opal bearing material is closer to the surface. There are more than 200 distinct opal fields that occur on the 'ridge country'. These opal fields may be isolated or occur in groups. The main opal field groups located at Lightning Ridge are; Coocoran, Grawin/Carters, Glengarry/Sheepyards, Wyoming, Jag Hill and Mehi.

Once the opal dirt has been mined it is processed using dry puddling and wet puddling methods. Dry puddling uses mechanical action to break up the dirt, instead of water. The machinery can be driven by a small motor, or by hand. This method is generally less efficient than wet puddling and is generally used to reduce the bulk of the opal dirt before it is transported to a remote wet puddling site. Wet puddling operations typically serve 10 to 20 individual mining operations. The typical arrangement comprises separate water supply and sediment settling dams divided by an earthen mound on which are located a series of transit mixers (being the rear mixer portion of concrete trucks that have been removed from the vehicle). The opal dirt is delivered and transferred into the transit mixers and water is pumped from the water supply dam and mixed with the opal dirt. The fine portion of the material sinks to the bottom and is released into the sediment dam. The coarse fraction is transferred onto a tray at the back of the mixer and hand sorted using some additional water to remove the remaining fine.

Further details regarding the history of opal mining, the location of mineral claims, mining methods and opal processing can be found at the Mining, Exploration and Geoscience website.

Opal mining forms, fees charges and plant registrations

Opal prospecting and mineral claims forms

For all information relating to opal mineral claim mining forms, fees and charges please go to the Mining, Exploration and Geoscience website.

Environmental management guidance and application forms

Download rehabilitation guidance material and forms including Mining Operation Plans, applications for activity approvals and environmental management reports.

Get specific information on environmental management and rehabilitation at Lightning Ridge

Plant registrations

The law requires that specified high risk plant must be registered. This includes registering the design of the plant and also the individual plant items.

Get more information on item and design registration of person-riding hoists for small gemstone and opal mines

Opal mining guidance, fact sheets and additional resources

The following resources have been developed to provide mine operators and mine workers with information, advice and guidance related to opal mining.

Guide: Opal and gemstone mining

The Opal and gemstone mining guide (PDF, 21.86 MB) is designed to provide material focussing on practical guidance and best practice in opal and gemstone mines.

The guide deals with common health and safety issues at opal and gemstone mines but does not cover all hazards or risks that may arise at each mine. The health and safety laws require mine operators and others to consider all risks associated with working at opal or gemstone mines.

A hard copy of the guide is provided when you undertake the Opal Mining Safety Workshop.

Working safely in and around shafts

Open cut opal mining

Puddling operations

Further opal mining guidance, resources, and training: