The Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) have released proposed new mining proposal guidelines (3.2 MB PDF) for stakeholder feedback as part of the Reforming Environmental Regulations (RER) initiative.
The proposed new guidelines are a major change from existing guidelines and introduce a risk and outcome based approach for assessment of Mining Proposals.
Feedback is being accepted up until 23 November 2015. The new guidelines are independent of the Mining Legislation Bill 2015 currently before parliament as part of RER and the guidelines will be implemented under the current Mining Act 1978, with later inclusion of native vegetation clearing assessment once the Mining Legislation Bill 2015 is passed.
Once the final guidelines are published there will likely be a 6 month transition period for new operations before they become compulsory. More importantly existing operations will be required to replace all existing Mining Proposals with a new single Mining Proposal for each Environmental Group System (EGS), but will have a period of 6 years in which to do this. This is an important change as it allows companies to group individual tenements that make up a particular mining project in a single Mining Proposal (the same groupings currently used for AERs). Miners can request for an EGS to be altered (combined or split up). This could lead to a large reduction in paperwork for operations which currently have many mining proposals.
Some of the more significant proposed changes include:
- Specification of Location/Flexibility for Expansion and Changes – A site envelope for all activities must now be specified precisely (including providing spatial data files). In addition locations of key infrastructure items such as pits, waste dumps, the process plant, leach pads, and ore stockpiles must be specified precisely within this envelope. Non key items can be placed anywhere in the envelope and be any size. Any changes to these specified locations would require a new Mining Proposal, but changes within the specified locations will not require an amendment unless there is an increase in environmental risks. This means that care will need to be taken when specifying infrastructure footprints and it would be desirable to allocate large areas for the site envelope and for key items to allow for future changes and expansions without triggering the need for a new Mining Proposal. This will entail a comprehensive risk assessment to establish any increased environmental risk.
- Removing Duplication with Other Approvals – The new guidelines specifically exclude aspects that are covered by other legislation (i.e. for aspects covered by an environmental licence refer to the licence, for clearing refer to the clearing permit, etc.). While this is a change for the better there are still potential complications in that you may be required to address the issues covered by other approvals outside the timeframe of the approval, for example emissions after operations cease and the Environmental Licence is no longer current. Closure measures are to be confined to the closure plan and not repeated in the Mining Proposal.
- Additional Baseline Information – The new guidelines provide more detail on required baseline information such as material characterisation, stygofauna and short range endemics (SRE). Another interesting change is that soil maps will be required where more than 1 soil type is recorded as well as maps and diagrams of the sampling locations in order to provide a 3-D spatial understanding. SREs are also now required to be assessed (or demonstrated not to be required) if no relevant risk.
- Mining Activity Details – The guidelines now incorporate relatively detailed “Activity Detail” tables that need to be submitted. These require accurate and concise details of individual activities for which the proponent is seeking approval.
- Stakeholder Engagement – Similar to the Mine Closure Plan guidelines there is a strong focus on stakeholder engagement. Proponents must formulate and implement a stakeholder engagement strategy providing a summary of the outcomes. Scoping meetings with DMP and others at an early stage are recommended. While DMP provide principles of stakeholder engagement there is little guidance on what is an adequate level of public consultation.
- Risk and Outcomes Based Model – Possibly the biggest change is the move to the Risk and Outcomes based Model. The specified process is to perform an analysis of environmental risks, then based on this specify environmental outcomes to be achieved and environmental performance criteria to assess if these are being met. Outcomes need only be set for risks identified as moderate to high (pre treatment). The number of outcomes specified should be proportional to the risk (what is an appropriate proportion is not specified). Mining Proposals not demonstrating that these objectives would be met will be rejected (falls within “Intolerable Region”). If residual risks are insignificant this is considered acceptable without further management (falls within “Acceptable Region”).
- “As Low as Reasonably Practicable” (ALARP) –The area between “Intolerable Region” and “Acceptable Region” has been designated as the “ALARP Region” where impacts are required to be as low as reasonable practicable. While some guidance on what this means is provided it still appears quite subjective. DMP has been using this principle in regulation of the petroleum industry for some time.
- Closure Outcomes – closure outcomes should be included in an accompanying Mine Closure Plan eliminating any unnecessary duplication of information.
- Reportable Incidents – Breaches of the performance criteria or incidents that are likely to cause environmental harm must be reported to DMP within 24 hours.
- Environmental Management System – Proponents are required to have and maintain an appropriate Environmental Management System (EMS). If the EMS is to be a certified ISO 14001 EMS then no further information is required in the Mining Proposal other than the commitment to implement it. If not ISO certified an outline of the proposed EMS must be included in the MP with considerable detail (the actual EMS is not required to be submitted).
- AER Changes – Some changes will be made to the AER guidelines to work with the new Mining Proposals, these have not been finalised yet. The Mining Proposal requires Mining Rehabilitation Fund (MRF) disturbance categories to be used.
DMP are holding briefing sessions (bookings required) in Perth on 4 November and in Kalgoorlie on 5 November 2015. More details of these and on providing stakeholder feedback can be found on the DMP website (external link).
Please don’t hesitate in contacting MBS should you wish to discuss the potential implications of the proposed new guidelines for your mining operations ahead of the official DMP briefing sessions.