The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has recently released a number of guidelines for public comment, comprising the second stage of the proposed Integrated Mining Policy (IMP). The IMP is designed to provide greater consistency in the assessment and regulation of State significant mining developments, shorter timeframes for the assessment of mining projects and simpler controls on approved projects.

Consultation with the community and industry regarding the IMP has been split into two stages. The first stage, which sought consultation on the Mine Application Guidelines, the Standardised Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements and the Swamp Offsets Policy, concluded on 9 July 2015. The DPE is currently considering feedback.

The second stage of consultation commenced on 28 July 2015, with the release of the following documents for public comment:

  1. Post Approval Guideline: Independent Audit Guidelines;
  2. Post Approval Guideline: Web-based Reporting Guidelines;
  3. Post-Approval Guideline: Annual Review Guidelines;
  4. Water Regulation and Policy; and
  5. Planning Agreement Guidelines.

(together, the Stage Two Documents).

The exhibition of the Stage Two Documents is open until 7 September 2015.

THE STAGE TWO DOCUMENTS

The Post Approval Guideline: Independent Audit Guidelines aim to ensure that independent audits of State significant mining developments in NSW adopt a consistent approach and meet minimum audit standards. Guidelines are outlined for the selection and approval of the audit team, audit methodology, including agency and community consultation requirements, and audit reporting, in order to improve the consistency, quality and transparency of audits. This guideline will be relevant for any State significant mining development required to undertake periodic inspection audits, whether under conditions of development consent or required by regulators as part of compliance and enforcement operations.

The Post Approval Guideline: Web-based Reporting Guidelines encourage operators to apply a consistent and transparent approach to the publication of information regarding mining operations. Mining operators are encouraged to publish a range of information about mining operations online, including specific information and links to documents such as compliance reports, audit reports, incidents registers, community complaints registers and blasting notifications.

The Post-Approval Guideline: Annual Review Guidelines aim to assist mining operators in the preparation of their annual reviews.  These guidelines set out detailed requirements for reviews, both in terms of form and content, which are likely to be more prescriptive than requirements under existing development consents, project approvals or mining lease conditions. By following these guidelines, mining operators can ensure that they meet both the:

  1. annual review requirements of the DPE under conditions of a development consent or project approval; and
  2. environmental management report requirements of the NSW Division of Resources & Energy under the conditions of a mining lease.

The DPE has indicated that it is currently working to further streamline report requirements by aligning requirements for annual reviews and Environment Protection Licence Annual Returns.

The Water Regulation and Policy provides an overview of the current policies and regulations in relation to possible water impacts from mining and petroleum developments in NSW. It is not a prescriptive guideline.  Rather, it is designed to assist proponents in understanding how the NSW Government regulates the impacts of mining developments on water resources by setting out the water and policy framework. This guideline is current as at April 2015, but is likely to require revision to reflect legislative changes that may occur in this area.

The Planning Agreement Guidelines aim to assist councils and mining companies in negotiating planning agreements for State significant mining developments. These guidelines are designed to promote best practice in the preparation of planning agreements and do not contain any prescriptive requirements.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Stage Two Documents are available for review and comment here until 7 September 2015.

It is not yet clear when the IMP is intended to commence. The DPE has indicated that, at the end of the exhibition period, it will review all submissions on the IMP and report to the Minister for Planning. The Minister for Planning will then make a decision about the proposed changes.

IMPLICATIONS FOR EXISTING MINING OPERATORS AND FUTURE PROPONENTS

The exhibition material for the IMP indicates that the IMP will apply to Stage significant mining projects, including coal and mineral mines. It will not apply to petroleum operations, coal seam gas proposals or exploration activities.

As State significant mining projects approved after commencement of the IMP will be required to comply with the IMP, future proponents should familiarise themselves with IMP requirements to ensure that these are factored into feasibility assessments and project timelines. However, for the most part, the guidelines comprising the IMP encapsulate existing best practice and are unlikely to have unmanageable time or cost implications for proponents.

It is unclear whether the IMP will apply to existing projects approved under former major projects regimes, such as transitional Part 3A projects that have not been brought under the operation of the State significant developments regime. The DPE intends consulting with existing project proponents once the IMP has been finalised. However, it is safe to assume that, in order to meet its objectives of providing a greater level of consistency, the DPE will take opportunities to roll out the IMP where possible. Where modifications of existing development consents or project approvals are sought, the DPE may introduce conditions requiring compliance with the guidelines comprising the IMP (whether in whole or in part).

Further, even if the IMP does not apply, operators should consider the value in voluntarily aligning existing operations with IMP requirements. Once in force, the IMP will represent best practice, meaning compliance with the IMP is likely to contribute to the social licence (i.e. community acceptance) of the development.