Subscribe to email alertsBefore you can explore for petroleum or gas in NSW, you must apply for the appropriate title. These are issued under the NSW Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991.

Exploration titles include the following:

  • Petroleum Special Prospecting Authority (PSPA)
  • Petroleum Exploration Licence (PEL)
  • Petroleum Assessment Lease (PAL)

Negotiating land access

Before entering land to carry out petroleum exploration activities, you must enter into a written access arrangement with the landholder. Read more about Landholders rights or the Exploration Guideline: Petroleum Land Access.

Approval to explore in exempted areas

Some areas of New South Wales are not available for exploration. Others may be available but have a range of conditions and restrictions placed on them.

Exploration in exempted areas requires the prior consent of the Minister for Resources & Energy in addition to an access arrangement with any landholders. Exempted areas include State Forests, State Conservation Areas, racecourses, cricket grounds and most other public lands. For a detailed description of exempted areas see Section 70 of the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991.

70   Exempted areas

(1) The holder of a petroleum title may not, except with the consent of the Minister, exercise any of the rights conferred by the title on land in an exempted area.
(2) The Minister's consent may be given unconditionally or subject to conditions.
(3) The Minister may not grant consent under this section in respect of lands within a state recreation area under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 without the concurrence in writing of the Minister for the time being administering that Act.
(4) In this section:

exempted area means an area constituted by land:

(a) reserved, dedicated, appropriated, resumed or acquired for public purposes (except land reserved for a temporary common or a commonage), whether vested in the Crown or in any person as trustee for public purposes, or
(b) held under a lease for water supply by virtue of a special lease or otherwise, or
(c) transferred, granted or vested in trust by the Crown for the purpose of a race-course, cricket-ground, recreation reserve, park or permanent common or for any public purpose, or
(d) prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this definition.

To apply for approval to explore in an exempted area, contact the Division's Titles services.

Applying to conduct petroleum exploration activities

Overview

Clause 6 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007 provides that petroleum exploration is development permissible without consent and is therefore subject to assessment under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act). The Department of Resources & Energy is the determining and approval authority for all exploration proposals, other than those identified in Schedule 1, Clause 5 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011.

An exploration title (such as an exploration licence) issued under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 is subject to a statutory condition that the title holder must not carry out an “assessable prospecting operation” unless an exploration activity approval has been obtained (sections 31A and 36A).

Assessable prospecting operation means any exploration activity that is not exempt development within the meaning of clause 10 of State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007 (Mining SEPP). For further information refer to the Department’s Fact Sheet Exploration Reforms – Activity Approvals.

The Department’s approval process for assessable prospecting operations has been designed around the environmental assessment requirements under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Note: Prior to 1 March 2016 the obligation to carry out certain exploration activities was a condition of the title.  In most cases the conditions of the exploration title divided exploration activities into Category 1, Category 2 and Category 3 prospecting operations, with these categories having different activity approval requirements.  However, from 1 March 2016 the obligation to obtain an activity approval became a requirement of the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 (sections 31A and 36A).  Therefore, regardless of what is stated as a condition of the exploration title, a title holder must not carry out an “assessable prospecting operation” unless an activity approval has been obtained. For further information refer to the Department’s Fact Sheet Exploration Reforms – Activity Approvals.

Exempt Development

Certain exploration activities with minimal environmental impact have been identified as exempt development under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007 (Mining SEPP).  These minimal impact activities do not require further environmental assessment or approval prior to being carried out.

Under the Mining SEPP the following activities are exempt development, provided they are of minimal environmental impact:

  • the construction, maintenance and use of equipment for the monitoring of weather, noise, air, groundwater or subsidence
  • low intensity exploration activities, including:
    • geological mapping and airborne surveying;
    • sampling and coring using hand-held equipment;
    • geophysical (but not seismic) surveying and downhole logging; and
    • accessing of areas by vehicle that does not involve the construction of an access way, such as a track or road.

These activities can be undertaken without approval provided that they are on land that:

  • is not within an environmentally sensitive area of State significance; or
  • is within a state conservation area, but is not otherwise on land referred to in section 3 of the Mining SEPP as being environmentally sensitive area of State significance.

Assessable Prospecting Operations

All “assessable prospecting operations” require further approval from the Minister (or delegate) before they can be carried out. Assessable prospecting operation means any exploration activity that is not exempt development within the meaning of clause 10 of State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007.

All applications to undertake petroleum assessable prospecting operations need to be supported by a Review of Environmental Factors (REF). Further information on preparing an REF is available in ESG2: Guidelines for Preparing a Review of Environmental Factors and ESG5: Guideline for the Assessment and Determination of Exploration Activities.

Completing and lodging the application form

Applications for exploration activity approvals must be made using the Department's application form ESF4-Application to Conduct Exploration Activities. The Application Form asks specific questions about the proposed activity, with the answers identifying the level of assessment required. The Application Form also identifies when additional supporting information must be submitted to satisfy relevant statutory requirements.

Note: For the purposes of conditions of some older titles which require the lodgement of a Surface Disturbance Notice (SDN), the Department's Application Form ESF4 replaces a SDN for the notification of exploration activities.

Assessment and determination

For more information about getting approval to carry out petroleum exploration activities, refer to ESG5: Guideline for the Assessment and Determination of Exploration Activities.

Applications for approval to carry out petroleum exploration activities must be made using the Department's application form and be accompanied by a Guideline REF prepared in accordance with ESG2: Guidelines for Preparing a Review of Environmental Factors.

Notwithstanding the above, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be required for activities likely to significantly affect the environment. A Species Impact Statement (SIS) will be required where the activity will be carried out in critical habitat, or is only likely to have a significant impact on a threatened species, population or ecological communities or their habitats.

Note: The NSW Strategic Regional Land Use Policy also requires an Agricultural Impact Statement (AIS) to accompany any REF where there may be an impact on agricultural resources or industries. Proponents should refer to Guideline for Agricultural Impact Statements at the Exploration Stage.

Find information on approved activities

All information relating to environmental activity approvals can be found in the DIGS Database.

DIGS Database provides access to a range of information relating to exploration and mining activities. Information on how to use the database is detailed in the DIGS User Guide.

DIGS tip: to find information relating to Reviews of Environmental Factors (REFs) type REF in the Report Number field the Tenement Name/Number field requires 4 digits to search. This means that titles such as PEL123 should be entered as PEL0123

Note: the process is the same for Petroleum Special Prospecting Authority.

Exploration activities requiring approval under other legislation

Certain exploration activities may also require approval under other legislation, for example:

It is the responsibility of the title holder to identify these requirements and ensure that all approvals are in place prior to commencing an activity.

Lodging a security deposit

It is the responsibility of the Department to ensure that land disturbed by exploration activities is returned to a condition that is safe and stable.

All title holders are required to lodge a security deposit with the Department. Departmental Policy ESP1: Rehabilitation Security Deposits states that the security deposit must cover the Government's full costs in undertaking rehabilitation in the event of default by the title holder. This requirement is intended to minimise potential liabilities to the State in the event that the title holder defaults on their rehabilitation obligations.

On receipt of each application for approval of an exploration activity, the Department will review the adequacy of the security deposit. Holders of titles under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 will be required to submit a Rehabilitation Cost Estimate (RCE) with the Application Form to facilitate this review. The RCE is used by the Department to assist in determining the amount of the security, including when a potential change in rehabilitation liability occurs.

Refer to ESG1: Rehabilitation Cost Estimate Guidelines and Rehabilitation Cost Estimation Tool, Rehabilitation Cost Estimation Tool Handbook and the Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Site inspections and audits

The Department monitors exploration sites through inspections and audits to ensure compliance with legislative requirements, title conditions and activity approvals. These may be carried out in conjunction and cooperation with other regulatory agencies.

From 1 July 2015, under the NSW Gas Plan, the Environment Protection Authority is the sole authority to regulate compliance with and enforcement of all conditions (excluding work health and safety) contained within petroleum titles. This includes any conditions imposed in relation to specific activity approvals.

Incident reporting

Reporting of environmental incidents is a requirement for all exploration activities. Refer to the Department’s Guideline ESB28 – Environmental Incident Reporting Requirements.

The Department is responsible for investigating community complaints and certain environmental incidents. A range of compliance and enforcement mechanisms are available in accordance with the Department’s legislative and policy framework including penalty infringement notices and, if required, prosecution. The enforcement approach to non-compliances depends upon the nature or consequences of the non-compliance and the previous performance of the title holder, including responses to previous notices or sanctions.

For information on how a member of the public may lodge a complaint or report an incident, please refer to Complaints and incident reporting by the public.

From 1 July 2015, under the NSW Gas Plan, the Environment Protection Authority is the sole authority to regulate compliance with and enforcement of all conditions (excluding work health and safety) contained within petroleum titles. This includes any conditions imposed in relation to specific activity approvals.

The Department is responsible for regulating compliance for all other matters relating to prospecting titles under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991.  The Department's approach to compliance and enforcement is set out in the Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

Rehabilitation and title relinquishment

The Department requires exploration title holders to undertake progressive rehabilitation over the life of the exploration project. Title holders must demonstrate that rehabilitation has met the required standards. The Department has responsibility for determining when rehabilitation has met the required standard, prior to title relinquishment and security deposit release.

Before relinquishing part or all of an exploration title, the title holder must demonstrate that all environmental obligations have been met and that rehabilitation has achieved the required standards.

The security deposit will be refunded once a Rehabilitation and Relinquishment Report has been submitted to the Department and the title holder has demonstrated that rehabilitation has been completed to the satisfaction of the Department.  For more information about Rehabilitation and Relinquishment Reports download form ESF2 Rehabilitation completion and/or Review of Rehabilitation Cost Estimate (fillable form).

Read more in the Exploration and mining rehabilitation fact sheet [PDF 175 KB].

For further information
Compliance Operations
Phone:
+61 (0)2 4063 6666
Fax:
+61 (0)2 4063 6977 (attn: Compliance Operations)
minres.environment@planning.nsw.gov.au
Postal:
Compliance Operations, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Resources Regulator, PO Box 344 Hunter Region Mail Centre NSW 2310
Office:
516 High Street Maitland NSW 2320 Map