WA mining applications up, exploration down

The Western Australian government experienced a 21 per cent jump in mining applications from September 30 to December 31.

Last year the Department of Mines and Petroleum finalised 82 per cent of its 7048 mining, petroleum and geothermal applications within its targeted deadlines.

The DMP is now sitting on less than 6000 tenure applications which includes mining lease applications.

The figure is well below the all-time peak of 18,700 in February 2007 for the backlog of all applications handled by the department, the West reported.

Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore said he was pleased with the departments result, given the increase in application activity late last year, and that the average mine in WA was now approved within 28 months.

But miners from around the country have voiced concerns that approval processes remain cumbersome and need to be streamlined.

Murray Hutton, technical manager at Geos Mining told Australian Mining that cutting costly bureaucratic processes like this will go a long way towards assisting junior miners and explorers in their early phases.

“State governments are placing more bureaucratic, OH&S and environmental obstacles in their way, which takes up a large slice of what little funding they have,” he said.

Urging for collaboration between the state governments, Hutton recommended a standard set of mining and exploration procedures needs to be drawn up.

“The various State governments really need to get together and come up with a standard set of procedures with regards to mining and exploration.  At Geos Mining, we have dealt with projects in all States of Australia and coming to grips with differences in the rules and regulations between States is an administrative nightmare,” he said.

Queensland's member for Mt Isa, Robbie Katter (the son of well known politician Bob Katter), has tabled a bill to cut both the green and red tape that is strangling much exploration and junior mining in the state.

Katter had tabled the Environment Protection (Greentape Reduction) and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 to assist miners and farmers.

The amendment seeks to make changes to a wide number of existing acts, including the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003, the Mineral Resources Act 1989, and the Petroleum Act 1923.

A major focus of the bill is the "streamlining and clarifying [of] information requirements".

It also seeks to combine the single application requirements that previously applied separately to mining and chapter 5A projects.

The bill aims "to ensure that projects are assessed as a whole, rather than separate environmental authorities being applied for and assessed at different times".

It will mainly affect smaller projects, rather than larger scale projects.

AMEC's chief executive Simon Bennison said that it is encouraging to see some support as the approvals process is in dire need of streamlining and "cutting of duplication".

"We need to get approvals processed quicker, but we can't compromise on them, it just needs to move more efficiently, but in saying that juniors need to do their homework before applying," he added.

Despite miners being prepared to push ahead with existing plans, exploration has been scaled back.

Prospecting and exploration applications dropped by almost 200 to 472 in the fourth quarter, the lowest level since 2009.

The DMP said this reflected a pullback from the record numbers in 2011, and blamed "uncertain global market conditions and the high costs of operating in WA".

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies attributed the drop in exploration applications to the difficulty securing finance.

Bennison said this is partly due to investment slowing over the past year, with retail and institutional investors holding on to cash, ABC reported.

"It's very difficult to access equity finance at the moment," he said.

"The market's very tight and I think we're seeing that reflected in some of the data."

Bennison said he remains confident that investment sentiment will lift.

"I think we're confident it'll pick up," he said.

"It's cyclical like everything else unfortunately in the resource sector and, you know, it's just a matter of time until some confidence comes back into the market place."

Confidence needs to be brought back to the sector, and with that confidence comes investment and future growth.

As the number of historically known deposits are mined, ore body grades decline, and commodity prices slide and stabilise at lower levels we need explorers willing to take the risks and enter unknown regions to possibly uncover new deposits.

Only recently mining junior Gold Road Resources uncovered what may be a completely new gold bearing region, the Yarmana greenstone belt, yet if the situation proceeds it is unlikely we will be seeing another discovery like Gold Road any time soon. This was supported by the Queensland Resources Council which stated that “history has shown that the small explorers are the best at making discoveries, the best at juggling the risks. They have the best track record of delivering discoveries of new deposits".

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