Mining is a boom to the Australian economy and a significant employment provider. However, it is not without its risks, including safety risks, environmental risks, health risks, and cultural risks (particularly as relates to Aboriginal Heritage and Native Title).
Federal, state and territory legislation and regulatory bodies govern mining to ensure it can proceed in a way that both supports the Australian economy and workforce while mitigating the risks associated with mining.
This risk mitigation is embodied within the relevant legislative framework. Familiarity with this framework can support a mining company to strive toward plans that are realistic. However, it is not only the plan that must be considered, because even with the best intentions, the process of lodging tenement applications and tenement approvals can also be complicated, and a misstep can prove costly.
Familiarity with the legislative framework takes years of experience, specifically in Australian mining and exploration law. A failure to grasp Australian mining legislation and the processes required by the regulatory bodies can result in delays, knock-backs, and inefficiencies in your operations.
An investment in a leading mining lawyer and/or environmental lawyer is not only an investment in the efficiency of your mining operations but also an avowal of your desire to do the right thing by Australian mining legislation.
Attempting to decode the often-complex world of mining law can frustrate even the savviest directors. Outsourcing to a mining lawyer and/or environmental lawyer can ensure that processes run smoothly and also mitigate a risk we haven’t mentioned yet – the legal risks you could face for making a wrong stop.
If we take Western Australia as an example, the Resource and Environmental Compliance Division of the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) oversees the development of Western Australia’s mineral resources. It is their role to ensure environmental compliance and in so doing, to reduce the impact of mining operations through sage environmental management.
In Western Australia, a mining corporation’s environmental approvals are governed by a breadth of legislation, including the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EPA) and the Mining Act 1978. A company or a representative must submit a number of important documents through DMIRS overtime to ensure their environmental compliance. The mechanism of submissions may differ but in recent years the movement has been towards online submission through varied online portals.
Relevant documents include a program of work, one of the crucial initial documents that pave the way for a company to undertake mineral exploration in Western Australia. Specifically, this document pertains to cases of ground disturbance with machinery. Should approval be permitted, there must also be a plan for rehabilitation. This rehabilitation report forms a further part of the communications with DMIRS.
When a company seeks to commence a mining operation, it must submit its proposal and depending on its size and its intended operations, there will be variation as to what part of the statutory guidelines will be applicable. Furthermore, all mining proposals must also include a mine closure plan, thus demonstrating the company’s long-term view of the situation to ensure everything will be done in a suitably sustainable manner.
Due to the consultative nature of certain mining operations undertaken in community areas and in line with freedom of information requirements, all mining proposals are made public. Therefore, the nature of these documents has a direct bearing on the social license or lack thereof that a mining corporation experiences. It is also important, from a liability and relationship-building perspective, to ensure that confidential information is not submitted within the publicly available document.
If a company is seeking environmental approvals for petroleum or geothermal activities, a new set of environmental plans will need to be submitted. Furthermore, on top of the above documentation, a company may have to apply for a native vegetation clearing permit.
This is only a brief and incomplete snapshot of the situation in Western Australia. The situation differs not only across states and territories, but within states and territories, depending on the nature of the operations, the precise location, and the resources in question. Furthermore, this is the only environmental compliance that we have discussed.
Acts and legislation passed by Parliament are only one layer of the full picture. An act outlines a broad description of the law, delineating the overarching principles. When brought into effect in the real world, Acts must be supported by regulations.
Further to acts and regulations, codes of practice and guidelines make clear any uncertainty or ambiguity and put forward concrete recommendations in terms of best practice. All layers apply within an application for tenement.
Due to the complexity and high stakes of mining and environmental law, most mining and exploration corporations seek the support of a tenement management company, environmental consultants, or tenement consultants and lawyers, to support them with their tenements, mine work health and safety, a program of work, tenement management and tenement compliance.
To find out more about how national mining lawyers and environmental lawyers can support your mining and exploration operations, contact Hetherington today.