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Regulatory framework for tailings storage facilities

Various legislative requirements apply to manage tailings storage facilities in NSW because of the potential hazard they present to the environment, the safety of workers and the community.

The table summarises the relevant legislation and the role of the responsible government agency

Table – Summary of legislation that applies to tailings storage facilities in NSW

Legislation Agency Role and responsibility
Mining Act 1992 NSW Resources Regulator: Mining Act Inspectorate The Mining Act Inspectorate ensures the rehabilitation of tailings storage facilities achieves a safe, stable and sustainable pre-determined final land use at mine closure. Rehabilitation and closure is required to be considered progressively through the full life cycle of the tailings storage facility.

Work Health & Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Act 2013

NSW Resources Regulator: Mine Safety Inspectorate

The Mine Safety Inspectorate’s role is to consider workers safety in relation to the design, construction and operation of tailings facilities.

Dam Safety Act 2015 Dam Safety NSW

Dam Safety NSW is responsible for dam safety in relation to the community as well as the environment.

Dam Safety NSW does not provide regulatory oversight for all tailings storage facilities, just those which are declared in accordance with the Dam Safety Act 2015. These are facilities that have a higher consequence to the community (including workers on site) or environment in the event of catastrophic failure.

Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A)

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment  for State significant development (SSD)

Local council for non-SSD

Before commencing mining operations, development consent is required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The proposal to construct and operate a tailings storage facility is assessed and approved as part of the development consent. These requirements of the development consent are regulated by the consent authority which may be the local council (for non-SSD) or the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces (or delegate) for SSD.

The relevant consent authority also has a compliance role to ensure compliance with conditions of the development consent. In most cases, this regards enforcing the tailings management commitments outlined in the environmental assessment documentation that formed part of the development application.

Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (PoEO) NSW EPA The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) regulates pollution prevention from tailings storage facilities. This typically relates to seepage (impacts to both surface water or groundwater) and managing dust. The EPA regulates through their Environment Protection Licencing (EPL) system. The EPL issued by the EPA sets monitoring requirements and pollution limits, including permitted discharges from tailings facilities.

The NSW Resource Regulator’s role covers both the safe operation of the tailings storage facility as well as environmental management in order to achieve a safe, stable and sustainable rehabilitation outcome.

The Tailings Compliance Priority Project identified opportunities to enhance collaboration between the regulators in NSW to facilitate a whole-of-government approach to the regulation of tailings storage facilities. The Regulator has started this process and holds regulator forums involving the other key regulators namely Dam Safety NSW, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority.