2012 saw the merger between Herbert Smith and Freehills, creating one of the world’s most experienced energy and resources firms. As it draws to a close, we pause to reflect on some of the key developments in the mining industry.

This year we saw several regulatory and legislative changes take place in the mining sector:

  • New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and the Commonwealth all took steps to ensure the harmonisation of safety laws via the Model Work Health and Safety Act was introduced by January 1.
  • In August, Victoria declared a ban on approvals to undertake hydraulic fracturing (fraccing) as part of onshore gas exploration, and the issue of new exploration licences for coal seam gas (CSG). While Queensland took a significant step in reducing red tape by passing the Mines Legislation (Streamlining) Amendment Act 2012.
  • The new Indonesian Mining Law enabled foreign investors to hold business permits for the first time, although foreign investors are now required to divest ownership in companies on an incremental scale after 5 years of production (up to 51%).
  • The Commonwealth Government released, for comment, the exposure draft of the Native Title Amendment Bill 2012, which proposes substantive amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

In March, we reported that M&A transactions in the mining and energy sectors were buoyant, accounting for almost half of all deals in the preceding 6 months. Despite significant nervousness and negative opinions surrounding the market in recent months, Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics suggested that the glass is still ‘half full’ for the resources sector at the Annual National AMPLA Conference.
In September, Queensland called for EOI in its lucrative bauxite leases, while also announcing an increase in coal royalties of up to 50 per cent per tonne. In October, Western Australia granted approval for Toro Energy to proceed with the State’s first uranium mine to be developed.
The year also saw a raft of inquiries and debates:

  • Coal seam gas (CSG) was on the agenda on the east coast. Victoria released a report entitled ‘Inquiry into Greenfields mineral exploration and project development in Victoria’, in a move to understand how better to develop and regulate Victoria’s CSG potential, while New South Wales tabled an inquiry into the environmental, economic and social impacts of mining CSG.
  • In October, the Productivity Commission announced a 12 month inquiry into the non-financial barriers to mineral and energy resource exploration to determine if there is unnecessary regulatory burden.

With still a month or two to go in 2012, be sure to keep an eye on our blog for further updates.