Land Use Facts for NSW

Mining operations in NSW use less than 0.1 percent of the state's land.
In comparison, agriculture uses around 78 percent of the state's land.

Mining and other industries have a long history of successfully co-existing together, creating jobs, investment and prosperity for NSW, particularly in regional communities.

Mining is vital to our economy, providing around 40,000 jobs across the state (ABS). NSW mining operations directly spent $10.8 billion in NSW in 2015/16, including wages for their employees, purchases from more than 8,000 local supplier businesses, plus royalties and taxes paid to the NSW Government.

That’s a pretty good return for such a small amount of land used.

Total land use in NSW as a percentage

  • Mining 0.1%

  • Buildings and infrastructure 1.8%

  • National Parks 8%

  • Agriculture 78%

Land rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is an important part of the mine planning process and mining operations. It starts soon after mining commences, to limit the amount of land disturbed at any given time and to ensure the land is returned to a safe and stable use when mining is finished.

It's important you know some facts about mining in NSW

Families and communities across the state rely on mining for jobs, taxes and investment. Decisions affecting such a critical industry must be based on facts, not myths. So forget the myths. Here are some facts on mining you might be interested to learn.


No one benefits from mining except for mining companies


In NSW, mining directly employs over 40,000 people (ABS). In addition to this mining also supports thousands of jobs in businesses supplying our mines. Mining in NSW contributes around $1.5 billion in royalties each year that help pay for essential infrastructure and government services like schools, hospitals and roads.


Nowhere is sacred. Nowhere is safe from mining


Mining cannot happen in or under National Parks, which account for 8 percent of land in NSW.

Proposals for mining projects in NSW are subject to some of the most rigorous regulation in the world.

Every mining project is subject to a detailed assessment under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (1979). This includes proposals for new mines as well as extensions of existing mines. Mining projects do not receive approval unless they meet strict criteria to minimise any impacts on the environment and the community.

(Source: Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences; National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974).


Mining and farming can't coexist


The people of NSW do not need to ‘choose’ between agriculture, mining or any other industries, as some anti-mining activists claim. Mining and agriculture have successfully coexisted in NSW for around 200 years. NSW can continue to be home to a range of industries as part of a successful, diverse, modern economy.

There are many examples of farms and mines successfully coexisting close together, like the farmer who grows canola, wheat and barley on mining land near Parkes in western NSW. Or the farmer who successfully grows A1 wagyu beef next door to a major mining operation in the Hunter Valley.


Mining and exploration poses a threat to our food security


Australia produces enough food for around 60 million people. That's more than double the food we consume.

In NSW, impacts of mining activities are assessed under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (1979), including any impacts on agricultural land. In addition, landowners can refuse mining on the surface of their land if it is agricultural land.

(Source: Australian Collaborative Land Use and Management Program; Mining Act 1992; Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences).

Mining proposals in NSW are also subject to the NSW Government's Strategic Regional Land Use Policy which includes additional protections for land assessed as Strategic Agricultural Land, and for Strategic Industry Clusters covering viticulture and thoroughbred breeding operations.


Water supplies are being put at risk by mining


Mining accounts for less than 1.5 percent of the total water consumption in NSW. Agriculture uses 60 percent of NSW water. Water supply, sewerage and drainage accounts for 18 percent of NSW water.

(Source: ABS Water Account, Australia, 2015-16).

Mining companies typically reuse and recycle at least 40 percent of their water on-site, with some mines recycling as much as 80 percent of their water.

The potential water impacts of proposed mining projects are a key element of the assessment process. These impacts are rigorously assessed by independent regulators in both State and Commonwealth governments. All mining proposals are required to prepare detailed water studies that are independently assessed by government agencies and scientists (as required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979).

Coal and mineral exploration drilling involves the same or very similar techniques to water bore drilling for agriculture. Bore drilling for agriculture has been undertaken extensively throughout NSW. All drilling must comply with specific requirements to protect aquifers.

(Source: Exploration Licence conditions, Mining Act (1992)).


Land is damaged and useless when mining is finished


Before any mining can begin, a rehabilitation plan must be submitted and approved by the NSW Government. Many former mines across NSW have been rehabilitated to create forests, parks, grazing and farm land.

(Source: Mining Act (1992); NSW Trade & Investment, EDG03 Guidelines to the Mining, Rehabilitation and Environmental Management Process.)

Rehabilitation is an ongoing process that takes place as mining occurs, paid for and conducted by the mining company that is operating the mine.

Mining companies also have to pay a rehabilitation ‘bond’, which is held by the government and only used to ensure that if a company can’t meet its commitments that rehabilitation is completed at no cost to the taxpayer. While there is currently $2.3 billion held in rehabilitation bonds, mining companies are rehabilitating thousands of hectares of land across the state each year. There are many layers of regulation that ensure quality rehabilitation is completed with rehabilitation bonds being a final safety net. The NSW Government has never drawn on a bond for a state significant mining project. 

(Source: NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Division of Resources and Geoscience)

Mine sites have to meet extremely strict regulatory standards before a mine can be considered ‘rehabilitated’. Only then can the bond be returned to the company.


Water quality on rehabilitated land is typically poor and gets worse over time


The NSW Government has strict conditions that ensure mine rehabilitation delivers a safe and stable landform. Water quality from mine operations is monitored, and mining companies have an obligation to ensure they do not cause pollution.


the land is forever scarred ‘like a moonscape’ after coal mining


Rehabilitation is completed progressively during mining, so that mined areas are shaped and revegetated when they become available.

A mine void is the area of excavation that remains after mining is complete, because the rock and soil removed to reach the coal is used as part of the progressive rehabilitation process. This leaves some land, usually the mine’s final active mine pit, unable to be completely filled when mining ends.

For modern mining operations, final landform and final voids have been determined as part of the planning approval provided by the independent regulator. Long-term mine planning and investment decisions will reflect this and any major changes to the location or shape of a final void will have material impacts on a mine and in many cases is not economic.

Mine planning in NSW involves progressive rehabilitation and active planning so the size and impact of final voids is minimised. In addition, mining companies must lodge a significant rehabilitation bond with the NSW Government to cover the expected cost of rehabilitation, and this bond is only be returned if the disturbed land is rehabilitated to meet agreed rehabilitation and mine closure objectives.

The NSW mining industry is committed to working with local communities to identify and plan for the most beneficial use of final voids. Many of our companies are working with local communities through the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue to examine the experiences of other mining regions around world in how to best utilise final voids for the greatest community and economic benefit. Given that most of the NSW mining operations expected to leave final voids will continue operating for many years, this is a long term project being pursued in partnership with local communities.


Concerns about final voids would be addressed if coal mining companies were required to ‘backfill’ mines like some are in the USA


Claims that the US has a blanket rule requiring mining voids be backfilled is false. Given differences in mining conditions and legal requirements across US states and in Australia, it is not an appropriate comparison. For example, NSW mines are generally much deeper than many of the shallower reserves in the US.

Modern mine planning in NSW involves progressive rehabilitation, paid for by the company operating the mine, and active planning so the size and impact of final voids is minimised.

In addition, mining companies must lodge a significant rehabilitation bond with the NSW Government to cover the expected cost of rehabilitation, and this bond is only be returned if the disturbed land is rehabilitated to meet agreed rehabilitation.

The NSW mining industry is committed to working with local communities to identify and plan for the most beneficial use of final voids.

And there are also many international examples where final voids have been utilised to deliver positive outcomes for the local community by providing recreational facilities or other economic uses.