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Matthew Ritchie
October 1, 2021

Natural resource governance and mining regulations are in a continuous state of evolution. In the absence of a crystal ball to help us perfectly predict the exact direction that mining regulatory compliance will take in years to come, how can we best anticipate and prepare for the future?

Our best opportunity lies in extrapolating from localized changes, observing and learning from the new rules that are rolled out by progressive, innovative jurisdictions. The recent updates to mining rehabilitation rules by the NSW Government are a prime example of how specific amendments can hint at the direction that mining regulatory compliance will take in years to come.

In this article, we’ll explore six key predictions, based upon recent changes to mining regulations in NSW, and consider what these might mean for the broader mining industry. 

1. More Visibility: Better Public-Facing Representation

Before looking at the specifics of the changes being made to NSW mining rehabilitation rules, it’s important to understand what triggered these updates. The new standard mining lease conditions for rehabilitation were brought about as a result of extensive public consultation. There’s a growing expectation – and demand – for higher, more stringent standards when it comes to the environmental legacy of mining.

Public interest in the environmental stewardship of corporations across all sectors is rising. One survey showed 87% of respondents believing companies should integrate environmental concerns into their products, services, and operations to a greater extent than they have in the past. With mining capable of creating large disturbance areas and visible impact, significant attention and scrutiny is attracted. The digital age, and satellite imagery, brings an increased level of visibility, and ease of inquiry, enabling feedback to be given in a more public and shareable manner.

Following the updates to mining regulations in NSW, mining operators will be required to show a management plan for progressive rehabilitation and carry out rehabilitation risk assessments. They also need to make information about rehabilitation publicly available and report annually on rehabilitation performance.

What might the changes brought about in NSW mean for the wider industry? It seems fair to expect increased pressure from regulators, as a result of the need to demonstrate more forward-thinking attitudes towards responsible resource management, especially as higher levels of interest lead to increased press attention.

The need to show a demonstrable commitment to better environmental practices will only continue to increase. Smart commercial and site ops managers will be thinking ahead, not only to the ways in which they can actively improve their rehabilitation efforts, but also to the strategy they deploy to communicate those efforts to the public.

If this prediction holds fast, what’s the silver lining for the mining industry? A sharper public spotlight means being held to a higher account, but equally, better PR for those companies going above and beyond. When it comes to mining rehabilitation, it’s time for good work to be recognised.

2. More Clarity: Refreshed Frameworks 

Another big driver of the NSW mining reforms has been the need for increased clarity and consistency relating to the rehabilitation frameworks that mining operators are working within. By applying new standards to all mining leases, rehabilitation requirements are increasingly clear cut. 

There are several factors that have contributed to the need for these improved frameworks. Without standardized requirements for all leases, operators have to rely on their own interpretations and solutions for compliance – operating in a vacuum and less able to learn from the approach that others have taken. Increased standardization helps to address these challenges.

What might these refreshed frameworks mean if adopted by the wider industry? More joined up thinking and a clearer path forwards: more best practices to follow, increased sharing of resources and workflows, and ultimately, greater general clarity when it comes to the baseline understanding of requirements.

3. More Intention: Greater Focus On Prep and Planning 

One of the most notable aspects of the recent changes to the NSW mining regulatory compliance rules is the increased focus on the preparation and advance planning of mining rehabilitation. A proactive approach is encouraged, with a focus on progressive rehabilitation, beginning long before mining activity ceases.

What will this progressive approach look like practically? We can expect more forward thinking and planning, as well as the need to be up to date with all possible tactics that could be leveraged to get better results and closer compliance. Site commercial officers and community officers will likely need to keep abreast of the latest developments (both in terms of procedure and practical assistance) to ensure that the very best results are achieved throughout the life cycle of an active mine.

The wider industry can expect restoration plans that run concurrently with site development to become the norm. Instead of representing an afterthought or post-closure practice, mining rehabilitation will become a more dynamic and prevalent process, active and observable at all points in a mining operation’s progression. 

What benefits might this bring to mining more broadly? Better communication with regulatory bodies throughout the lifespan of a site should be embraced. By starting the planning and active process of mining rehabilitation at an earlier point, cost projections and tracking should be more easily attainable and the path to relinquishment clearer.

4. More Accountability: Annual Progress Tracked 

Another key feature of the changes brought about to mining regulation in NSW is the increased focus on annual progress reports, centering on the rehabilitation performance achieved by individual mining operators. 

This is a trend that we can comfortably predict spreading more broadly throughout the industry in upcoming years. As the number of official checkpoints throughout the lifespan of a site increases, more targeted action over smaller increments of time is likely to become commonplace. Visibility requests are likely to increase, especially in a time of COVID, and this will see operators reaching for more ways to enable digital or virtual access to mining sites, not only in Australia, but across the world, wherever site access proves challenging due to remote location or inhospitable terrain

As well as bringing a more consistent level of attention to the process of mining rehabilitation, by tracking annual progress, mining operators can also expect to benefit from a more informed and adaptive strategy that can be proactively refined over time, allowing more time to course correct if problems arise or tactics need to be changed.

5. More Best Practice: Technical Improvements 

One of the results of improved frameworks, as introduced in NSW, will be the increase in the need for ways to reliably achieve recommended best practices. There’s a strong likelihood of the need for more companies to provide a comprehensive program for progressive rehabilitation – and standards will continue to rise here. This will need to reflect modern best practices, and make use of technological advancements that lead to the best results

This is where partnerships with cutting-edge technology partners such as Dendra will prove invaluable. The increased levels of accuracy and efficiency attained within mining rehabilitation, coupled with the cost effectiveness of our solutions will give mining operators the edge they’ll need to deliver on more stringent and closely monitored requirements.

Why might this be a good thing for the industry? More investment in best practice and third party expertise leads to better outcomes and better ROI. Overall, we can expect to see more advancement in the field of technical assistance, with solutions continuing to be developed and improved upon due to growing demand.

Dendra captures super-high resolution ecological data at scale, making progress easy to capture and demonstrate. Especially to 3rd party stakeholders wishing to actively engage, manage and understand how and understand how sites are being managed.

6. More Transparency: Better Public Reporting 

Changes to the NSW policy demanded increased transparency when it comes to public reporting. Mining operators are being required to show more detailed public reports, and increase the number of case studies they produce in order to demonstrate their progress and compliance in the realm of rehabilitation.

Additional public transparency creates a cyclic dynamic – public opinion has been seen to hold increasing levels of influence with regulatory bodies, and by showing results to the public, mining companies have the opportunity to learn more about their interests and concerns (as well as gauging how well these concerns were addressed.)

Again, Dendra’s ability to create accessible, accurately visualised ecological reports, and to demonstrate data-driven action that leans upon the latest technologies include remote sensing, AI and machine learning, puts operators in a strong position to conveniently and efficiently manage on site rehab operations and contractors, and better communicate compliance with both regulators and the general public.  

Get ready for the future of mining compliance regulation…

When it comes to mining regulatory compliance, change is inevitable – not just in Australia but globally as well. Increased demands are only a matter of time – driving benefits to those with more proactive and transparent operations.

Instead of being viewed as an impending and problematic challenge, this level-up should be framed as an opportunity for mining operators ready to get ahead of the curve by adopting best practices and embrace better efficiency.

By revisiting current rehabilitation practices, and by exploring partnerships with innovative mining rehabilitation partners, like Dendra, there’s every opportunity for improvements to rehabilitation outcomes, costs, efficiencies and the public perception of mining as a progressive, responsible industry.

Get a head start on the future of mining restoration – speak to our sales team today.