The NSW Government is committed to ensuring major mining projects use best practice rehabilitation so that previously mined land can sustain other uses.
The Government is already implementing a number of reforms to strengthen operational rehabilitation requirements for all mining projects in NSW. As the next step in these reforms, we have released the discussion paper, Improving Mine Rehabilitation in NSW (PDF, 2.49 MB), to seek feedback on proposed improvements to the regulatory framework for rehabilitation of major mining projects. This feedback will be used to develop new state-wide policy and actions that provide certainty to industry and the community by clearly setting out Government expectations regarding rehabilitation and closure requirements for all major mining projects in NSW.
There are five proposed reforms set out in the discussion paper across the assessment, operational and closure stages of the mine life cycle. A key aim of the proposed improvements is to ensure mine rehabilitation is consistent with leading practice and delivers appropriate social, economic and environmental outcomes for communities.
The Mining Act 1992 defines rehabilitation as the treatment or management of disturbed land or water for the purpose of establishing a safe and stable environment. In practice mining rehabilitation can cover a range of activities, such as demolition of infrastructure, remediation of contaminated land, establishing a final land form and re–vegetation. Rehabilitation can be carried out both during mining operations and after operations have ended.
To develop a major mining project in NSW, a proponent must first apply for a development consent under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The consent authority – generally the independent Planning Assessment Commission - evaluates the mine rehabilitation proposal as part of the development application. If the development application is approved, the proponent must construct, operate and rehabilitate the mine in compliance with the conditions of the development consent. Development consent conditions generally contain high level rather than detailed rehabilitation requirements.
Once development consent has been granted, the proponent must also obtain a mining lease under the Mining Act 1992. Mining leases contain detailed, operational requirements for rehabilitation of the site and lodgement of a security deposit. NSW is one of the few jurisdictions which requires a security deposit covering the full cost of rehabilitation.
The Department is the primary regulator of mine rehabilitation in NSW. The Department is responsible for enforcing compliance with both the development consent and mining lease.
The NSW Government is committed to ensuring major mining projects use best practice rehabilitation and land is left healthy and productive once mining operations end.
Aspects of the current regulatory framework for mine rehabilitation do not meet best practice. For example, the Independent Planning and Assessment Commission has identified that development applications for major mining projects often do not contain sufficient information on rehabilitation or proposed post-mining land uses and lack rigorous justification. Communities have also highlighted concerns regarding the assessment of final mining voids, including the current lack of criteria to determine the acceptability of a final void or how it will be managed.
Reforms are needed to ensure rehabilitation and post mining land uses are properly considered early in mine planning, including the assessment of any final voids, and to improve regulatory coordination at the planning, operational and closure stages of the mine life cycle.
The proposed reforms only apply to existing and new major mining projects, known as State significant development. The proposals do not apply to mining that is not State significant development, exploration under the Mining Act 1992, or petroleum exploration or production.
The Discussion Paper sets out five proposals to improve the regulation of mine rehabilitation across the assessment, operational and closure stages of the mine life cycle.
The proposals include:
Open cut mining involves the displacement of material to access an underground resource, which often results in the formation of large pits or 'voids' where that material has been removed. Where a void is left after mining, it is typically referred to as a 'final void'.
The Discussion Paper seeks feedback on the development of a policy framework to inform the assessment of final mining voids. A final void will not be considered acceptable as part of a new major mining project unless it cannot feasibly be removed and environmental, community and visual impacts are minimised. Other criteria include that the void must be able to be beneficially re–used in the future.
The aim of the proposed policy framework is to ensure that the full costs and benefits of final voids are identified and assessed upfront in the planning process and in a transparent manner.
Final mining voids that have already been approved as part of a major project’s development consent under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 will not be affected by the proposals. The NSW Government is considering these issues separately as part of its review of the Synoptic Plan: Integrated landscapes for coal mine rehabilitation in the Hunter Valley.
The NSW Government is committed to ensuring major mining projects use best practice rehabilitation and land can sustain another use once mining operations end.
In response to the NSW Auditor–General’s Report Performance Audit Mining Rehabilitation Security Deposits (May 2017), the Government is currently implementing the Rehabilitation Reform Project, which will strengthen operational rehabilitation requirements for existing mining projects in NSW.
The Rehabilitation Reform Project includes improved rehabilitation reporting requirements, best practice management standards, new tools to collect data and monitor performance and compliance, and enforceable operational objectives and completion criteria.
The proposals in the Discussion Paper complement the Government’s operational reforms by setting State–wide policy principles and introducing new requirements for major mining projects at the planning and assessment phase. The proposals also aim to improve coordination of regulatory requirements across the assessment, operations and post–closure stages of the mine life cycle, by improving consistency of project approvals under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and the Mining Act 1992.
More information on the Rehabilitation Reform Project is available at the Resources and Energy NSW website. You can also contact the Environmental Sustainability Unit, Division of Resources and Geoscience on the phone number 02 4931 6605 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page last updated: 29/09/2020