How to avoid the common Mining Proposal pitfalls

DMIRS has identified some problem areas in mining proposals impacting approval timelines
Date: Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The revised Statutory Guidelines (the guidelines) for mining proposals and mine closure plans prepared by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) came into effect in March 2020.  During a review of internal assessment processes and the quality of Mining Proposal (MP) submissions received since this time, the department has identified some recurring problem areas in MPs that are impacting approval timelines*.  

Telling the story

One of the most important fundamentals of a mining proposal is to present a clear picture and show that the description, the analysis and the interpretation of the baseline data - the fauna, flora, soils, waste characterisation, hydrology, etc - is well understood.  This data informs the risk assessment, which in turn influences the development of effective environmental outcomes and performance criteria for the proposal. 

A common pitfall in Mining Proposals is a lack of analysis and interpretation of this baseline data and how this links to the risk assessment. It is critical that the connection between the three key elements – baseline data, risk assessment and developing effective environmental outcomes/performance criteria - is clearly demonstrated in the mining proposal.

Top tip

Submissions should include a specific ‘implications for risk assessment’ sub-section at the end of each baseline data section to explain how the data has informed the risk assessment.

Seeking approval for expansions or alterations

The most efficient way to apply for operational expansions or alterations is to revise your existing mining proposal, rather than submitting multiple new mining proposals that are specific only to the changes. It is easier for companies to manage compliance with one set of environmental outcomes within one proposal, rather than scattered across multiple approved proposals.

When seeking approval for a change or expansion to operations, one of the easiest ways to clearly document the change within the revised MP, is to highlight the proposed changes in a revision summary table - see Section 13, pages 28 & 29 of the Mining Proposal Guidance. Including this section is mandatory and ensures the assessment can be streamlined.

Top tip

DMIRS suggests conducting a thorough quality control review when submitting a revised MP to ensure the modifications have not created contradictions or erroneous data. 

Description of activities

The required form and content of the activity details in a mining proposal are described in Section 5 of the guidelines.  It is very important to understand that the information provided in the Activity Details and Key Mine Activities Tables sets the approval limits and needs to be correct and all inclusive.

Matters regulated by other legislation

If an identified risk can be directly regulated under legislation other than the Mining Act 1978, it is better to be specific in the risk treatment section of the risk assessment table, rather than simply citing the other relevant legislation. 

For example, stating “regulated by Condition X.X of Ministerial Statement XXX which requires an EMP that covers weed management” is more useful to the assessing officer, than a statement such as “managed under the EP Act”. 

Top tip

It helps the assessment process if the risk pathway referenced in the environmental outcome is the same as that used in the risk assessment - and preferably numbered - to assist with linkages and cross-checking.

Fit for purpose

Part 2 of the Guidelines – ‘Mining Proposals for Small Operations’, is designed for prospecting-style operations such as scrape and detecting, dryblowing, and other small mining excavations that generally present low environmental risks.

Larger mining operations that use this form for expansions or alterations that meet the 10 hectare criteria but are not simple or low risk, are likely to trigger the need for further information during the assessment. This can result in a prolonged assessment time. As previously stated, revising the existing MP to include small changes is the most effective way of seeking approval.

What has DMIRS learned?

The department has gathered feedback and identified some areas for improvement since the guidelines were released.

These include:

  • ensuring the assessments are outcome focused;
  • clearer distinction between what is required in the Mining Proposal and the Mine Closure Plan; and
  • complications with activity tables.

When the guidelines were released in 2020, DMIRS committed to a 12 month review. The department will release more information about the timing for this review later this year to ensure industry feedback is gathered and improvements can then be made.

The department strongly recommends that any company seeking development approval under the Mining Act 1978 should engage with the relevant DMIRS Team Leader or Environmental Officer before or during the development of a MP. This approach allows for clarity on any given part of the process and can very often streamline the assessment process.

DMIRS Environmental Compliance Branch (ECB) is taking steps to ensure its operations are well aligned with a case-management approach, which will continue to support and improve the effective assessment of proposals.

Please contact the ECB (see ECB Contacts) if you would like to arrange a time to discuss your mining proposal.

*This article focuses on the standard Mining Proposals submitted under part 1 of the Guidelines (i.e. not on Mining Proposals for Small Operations – Part 2).