Principal applicable environmental laws

What are the principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws?

The Environmental Code is the principal environmental law in Sweden. The Environmental Code is closely tied to the Minerals Act, which, with few exceptions, is applicable to all exploration and exploitation on land. Two types of rights are granted under the Minerals Act - exploration permits and exploitation concessions. The Mining Inspectorate grants these rights. In order to conduct mining operations both an exploitation concession and a permit under the Environmental Code must be acquired. With respect to mining operations, permits under the Environmental Code are granted by the Land and Environmental Court.

If exploration work could have significant impact on the environment, it entails certain investigations of the environmental aspects according to the Environmental Code. The Mining Inspectorate also hears applications for exploration permits and exploitation concessions, in consultation with the County Administrative Board, which examines whether the site is acceptable from an environmental point of view. The Environmental Code is also applicable in matters concerning the granting of an exploitation concession, which means that an EIA must be appended to an application for a concession.

Supervision of compliance with the environmental conditions is usually carried out by the County Administrative Board and by the municipality’s Environment Health Board.

Environmental review and permitting process

What is the environmental review and permitting process for a mining project? How long does it normally take to obtain the necessary permits?

The granting of a permit for mining operations under the Environmental Code is governed by the same rules as other business operations with an environmental impact. The details for the permit under the Environmental Code, such as noise levels, storage sites and damming up water deposits, are decided during the permit process carried out by the Land and Environmental Court. Supervision of compliance with the environmental conditions imposed is usually carried out by the County Administrative Board and by the municipality’s Environment Health Board.

The first step to acquiring a permit is the consultation process. This takes place between the company wishing to engage in activities with an environmental impact and parties environmentally affected by the operations, as well as agencies and organisations concerned with environmental issues. The purpose is to hear from all concerned parties so that their interests can be considered when preparing the EIA.

After the consultation, the EIA has to be finalised. The purpose of the EIA is to describe the environmental impact that the proposed mining project will have. The description is made so that the reviewing bodies (the County Administrative Board or the Environmental Court) can assess whether the project should be allowed from an environmental point of view or not. The applicant must provide information in the EIA regarding any alternative sites for the proposed operation, together with a justification of why the proposed site was selected. The applicant must also provide a description of a zero option, which details the consequences of not starting the proposed operations.

After the hearing and EIA have been carried out, the application for a permit under the Environmental Code can be submitted to the Land and Environmental Court. The Land and Environmental Court determines whether the information gathered and presented in the consultation and environmental assessment phases is detailed enough to proceed with a ruling. During the initial phase of the proceedings, any affected parties may submit supplements to the application. The complete information will then be sent for review and comments to any affected party. Before the main hearing begins, the applicant will have the opportunity to address any comments made during the consultation process.

The complete process for obtaining a permit under the Environmental Code takes approximately three to five years depending on the size of the operation and where it is to be carried out.

Closure and remediation process

What is the closure and remediation process for a mining project? What performance bonds, guarantees and other financial assurances are required?

The closure and remediation process is handled in the Environmental Code permit process through the details for the permit. If deemed necessary, a security will have to be provided to cover for potential damages to the environment and closure of the mining operations. All types of security are approved as long as they are satisfactory for their purpose. The applying party must show that the suggested security is satisfactory and if a security cannot be provided a permit will not be granted.

Restrictions on building tailings or waste dams

What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?

Certain requirements for the operator in charge of dam maintenance are listed in the Ordinance on Dam Safety (No. 214 of 2014). A tailings or waste dam typically needs a water operation permit according to the Environmental Code and the main principle being that the owner of the tailings or waste dam is responsible for its maintenance. The Ordinance on Dam Safety requires the operator in charge of maintenance to produce an impact assessment and propose a classification based on the impact that may potentially be caused by a dam failure. Furthermore, the operator in charge of maintenance must have a safety management system concerning the methods, routines and instructions needed for:

  • organisation, areas of responsibility and qualifications for personnel working with dam safety;
  • identification and assessment of risks for major accidents;
  • operations, permit supervision and maintenance;
  • routines for changes in the operations;
  • planning for emergency situations; and
  • audits and reviews.

High-risk installations are subject to provisions with more severe requirements in the Ordinance on Mining Waste (No. 319 of 2013). High-risk installations are defined as installations wherein a deficiency or mistake in the installation or operational organisation may cause a major accident or an installation that has a certain amount of dangerous substances or chemicals. The Ordinance on Mining Waste also includes provisions on localisation and general design of tailings and waste dams.

The operator in charge of maintenance must make a complete assessment of the dam’s safety and the operational organisation every 10 years. The operator is also obligated to produce yearly safety reports to the supervising authority.

More specific requirements than those listed above may be prescribed in the water operations permit needed for the tailings or waste dam.