The process of gaining environmental approvals for mining or exploration projects can involve a vast quantity of interconnected small and large tasks that all need to be carried out to the book.
If we use Western Australia as a case study, we will see the regulatory process is governed by a complex range of relevant acts, including the Mining Act 1978, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.
To identify risks and to demonstrate to the pertinent regulatory agency that you have done so, it can be beneficial to develop a detailed program design in the early stages. This will enable you to proceed with foresight from the early stages and can be a way of safeguarding your intended timeline by forestalling delays due.
Of course, such information cannot be produced spontaneously but must be planned for and project managed by a capable professional or environmental consultant in the environmental compliance space.
In your submissions to regulators, which are dovetailed with your actual planning process, there are a complex range of factors to consider including constraints, risk and feasibility.
On the environmental question, there is a requirement to be across relevant legislation and to undertake or commission studies and surveys into your impact and other factors.
In the stakeholder engagement space, stakeholders must be thoroughly mapped, with no important stakeholders missed, including landholders, Native Title claimants, and other parties including community. There must be a plan of action for engaging with them that satisfies requirements.
On top of the above, submissions and supporting documents must be made in a way that suits the requirements and needs of the regulatory agency.
Due to the complexity and the demand that it can place on resources, many exploration and mining companies will engage an environmental consultant and mining lawyer, such as Hetherington, at this point of time.
The applications that will be required of you are various and entail a large expenditure of work and hours. At the same time, the stakes are high, with time being of the essence to progress your intended mining or exploration works as according to your envisioned program of work.
For these reasons, many mining and exploration companies will seek the assistance of a tenement management company or tenement manager to support them through this process and applications such as a mining proposal, native vegetation clearing proposal, or if requested by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
Continuing with Western Australia as an example, the backbone of the mining project you are planning is the granting of tenement under the Mining Act 1978. This requires the lodgement of a mining proposal with the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. This will need to stipulate how you will recognise, measure and manage environmental impacts. This must also include plans for the mine’s eventual closure – which is indication of how seriously this process is taken by the regulators. Even upon the granting of this tenement, conditions will apply.
Approvals can become complex when additional or ancillary approvals are required. For example, if water is affected (which is typical), then the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation will also become involved in the process. This includes groundwater. The reason to engage can be to protect resources and manage and place boundaries around the use of water in the mining or exploration operation within the Australian mining and resources sector.
As is immediately obvious, there are many regulatory agencies that must be engaged in the process of environmental approvals for mining and exploration projects. Once these submissions are in, it will be over the relevant regulatory bodies to assess and approve with conditions, reject, or seek modifications. If an application is refused, there may be recourse to the appeals process. There is certainly an argument for navigating this with expert assistance from a mining lawyer and tenement consultant such as Hetherington.
To fast track the process it is common for these various approvals to be sought simultaneously, which underlines the quantity of human resources planning and approvals can consume. This is another reason why many mining and exploration companies rely on a consultant.
Do you require an expert mining lawyer or environment consultant to assist with your environmental applications? Hetherington can supply various services in environmental applications and environmental compliance, including: advice on and management of exploration approvals, mining approvals, ancillary approvals, and rehabilitation compliance and auditing; environmental and planning advice around resources, renewables, and infrastructure; maintenance of internal or independent approval and obligation registers; advice on achieving compliance goals; management and oversight of Environmental Impact Assessment; and liaison and consultation with government and private stakeholders.