Exploration is the process of searching areas where mineral resources may be present to identify the volume and quality of those resources and to investigate the viability of extraction.
Exploration is not mining. Exploration activity doesn’t automatically mean that mining will occur in the area being explored. In fact, very few exploration programs find economically recoverable minerals and go on to be developed into mines. Exploration is like a process of elimination that looks at a large area to seek the best location within that area for a possible mine that can generate the most economic benefits with the least environmental impacts.
Exploration is critical to the development of mining in NSW and the economic benefit it generates. It is needed to generate a continued pipeline of future mining projects to replace existing mines as they exhaust their resources, and expand the volume of mineral production as global demand continues to increase.
Exploration is a commercially risky activity given the low chances of finding resources suitable to mine. There is tight competition for exploration investment both domestically and internationally and it is important that NSW remains an attractive destination for investors.
How exploration works
Exploration is the process of searching for mineral deposits in the ground. Exploration can be as simple as mapping or collecting and analysing rocks and soil from the ground surface, while more detailed investigations may involve various forms of drilling to get a detailed understanding of what types of rocks and minerals lie beneath the surface.
Exploration is generally a very low impact activity that occupies a small area of land and its impacts can be fully rehabilitated once exploration is complete. Most exploration equipment is of a similar size to farming equipment and many forms of exploration drilling are similar to water bore drilling commonly undertaken for agricultural purposes.
Before any exploration begins, an explorer must first be granted an exploration licence by the NSW Government and then enter into a land access arrangement with the landholders of land the explorer wants to explore on. An access arrangement sets out things like where on the property the exploration activities will take place, agreed times, for how long and under what conditions, and what compensation may be paid to the landholder.
While there are some very limited, low-impact exploration activities that can then be undertaken without further government environmental approvals (such as rock chip sampling), most forms of exploration require additional environmental approvals by the NSW Government. The licence holder also has to lodge a substantial security deposit with the government that is only returned once rehabilitation is complete.
Exploration licences do not permit mining, and they do not indicate that a mining lease will be granted. If a mineral discovery is made there is another separate, comprehensive approval process for any proposed mine and landholders are under no obligation to sell their land.
The NSW Government has prepared a template Land Access Arrangement for Mineral Exploration explorers and landholders that explorers and landholders may choose to use to help negotiate a land access arrangement, along with supporting information.
The template helps explorers and landholders negotiate a land access arrangement and can be tailored to reflect the individual needs of the landholder and explorer. Information on Landholders' rights can be found on the Department's website.