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Minerals & Energy Branch

The NLC has statutory responsibilities in relation to minerals and energy exploration, production and associated activities as prescribed by the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA) and the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA).

These laws enable the property rights and other interests of Aboriginal people to be recognised through their enduring cultural connection to country and provide a regulatory framework for Traditional Owners to make an agreement with exploration and mining companies if they choose.

The Minerals and Energy Branch is responsible for managing the NLC’s contractual and statutory obligations as they relate to minerals and energy exploration, production and associated activities. The principle objectives of the branch are compliance, accountability and transparency of the NLC’s functions as they relate to the minerals and energy sectors.

Our staff provide accurate and up-to-date environmental, technical and other information and support to Aboriginal people at all stages in the life of a resource project, from submission of an exploration proposal to production, including in relation to rehabilitation and closure activities.

Activities

The majority of Minerals and Energy Branch consultations during the 2018-19 period related to minerals exploration proposals under existing agreements.

Minerals exploration expenditure in the Northern Territory for the 2018-19 financial year was reported at $131.9 million, the highest annual figure since 2011-12.

During 2018-19, the NLC convened consultations with Traditional Owners about onshore gas exploration proposals submitted in response to the lifting of the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

Despite experiencing an increase in the number of consultations from the previous reporting period, NLC activity related to the onshore gas sector remained low during 2018-19 compared with the period prior to the moratorium commencing.

If the trend of increasing minerals and petroleum exploration expenditure in the Northern Territory continues, additional resources will be required to enable the NLC to service our obligations in relation to these sectors.

Mineral and Energy Project Management

The NLC undertakes statutory, contractual or voluntary minerals and energy activities:

At the end of the 2018-19 reporting period, 440 minerals and energy titles were active within the NLC region. Of these:

81% (347 titles) were under ALRA, of which:

- 37% (129 titles) were applications where negotiations had commenced towards reaching an agreement;

- 24% (82 titles) represented a backlog of applications pending compliance assessment;

- 21% (74 titles) were in moratorium following a decision to refuse consent to grant;

- 18% (62 titles) granted tenements with negotiated agreements in place.

- 19% (84 titles) were classified as future acts that attract the right to negotiate under the NTA, of which:

- 38% (32 titles) were applications where negotiations had commenced towards reaching an agreement;

- 62% (52 titles) were granted tenements with negotiated agreements in place.

TYPE

TITLES

PROJECTS

ASSOCIATED CONSULTATIONS & OTHER ACTIVITIES

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA)

Applications [1]

211

172

8

Applications in Moratorium [2]

74

N/A

N/A

Granted

62

37

31

Liaison & Other [3]

N/A

4

41

Sub Total

347

213

80

Native Title Act 1993 (NTA)

Application [4]

32

25

0

Granted

52

22

43

Liaison & Other [5]

N/A

N/A

N/A

Sub Total

84

47

43

Other

Liaison & Other [6]

N/A

5

27

Combines Total

431

265

149

Applications under ALRA

[1] Applications under ALRA

[2] Titles in moratorium, as per section 48, Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (Cth).

[3] Projects not associated with titles issued under the Mineral Titles Act, Petroleum Act, Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967, Geothermal Energy Act 2009.

[4] Non expedited titles under application within the NLC region.

[5] Projects not associated with titles issued under the Mineral Titles Act, Petroleum Act, Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967, Geothermal Energy Act 2009.

[6] Projects not associated with titles issued under the Mineral Titles Act, Petroleum Act, Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967, Geothermal Energy Act 2009.

Onshore Gas Reforms

The NLC has been engaging with the NT Government’s onshore gas reform program, which was developed to implement recommendations of the Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory. The Minerals and Energy Branch is involved with a number of committees, working groups and other forums associated with these reforms. At the end of the reporting period, a significant amount work remained outstanding to implement all of the inquiry recommendations, especially those related to onshore gas production.

REPRESENTATION

During the 2018-19 financial year, the NLC represented the interests of our Aboriginal constituents at various scientific, technical and other forums. A number of Aboriginal people (or their representative bodies) also participated on some of the following committees and forums:

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976

Granted Titles:

  • Woodcutters Mine Closure Liaison Committee;
  • Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC);
  • Alligator Rivers Region Advisory Committee (ARRAC);
  • Ranger Uranium Mine Relationship Committee;
  • Ranger, Jabiluka and Nabarlek Mine Site Technical Committee (MTC);
  • Ranger Uranium Mine Closure Criteria Working Group;
  • Ranger Uranium Mine Ecosystem Restoration Closure Criteria Working Group; and
  • Ranger Uranium Mine Water and Sediment Closure Criteria Working Group.

Native Title Act 1993

  • Bootu Creek (OM) Manganese Mine Liaison Committee.

Other

Staff of the Minerals and Energy Branch represented the NLC at the following forums:

  • Rum Jungle Governance Board;
  • Onshore Shale Gas Community and Business Reference Group (CBRG);
  • Geological and Bioregional Assessments (GBA) Program Technical Working Group;
  • GBA User Group;
  • NLC-Department of Primary Industry and Resources (ALRA/ Native Title Unit) Coordination Meetings;
  • Working Group to develop Guidance Note for Social, Cultural & Economic Strategic Regional Environmental Baseline Assessment (SREBA); and
  • Northern Territory Regional Research Advisory Committee (NT RRAC).

The Minerals and Energy Branch has been responsible for or involved in a range of meetings, submissions, reports and presentations at public hearings in relation to the following:

  • Code of Practice: Onshore petroleum activities in the Northern Territory;
  • NT EPA Guidance for Proponents – Stakeholder Engagement;
  • Mine Closure Plan for the Ranger Uranium Mine;
  • Social, Cultural & Economic Guidance Note for the Social, Cultural & Economic Strategic Regional Environmental Baseline Assessment Working Group;
  • Environment Protection Bill 2019;
  • On Shore Gas No-Go Zones Consultation Paper; and
  • Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill.

Mines in the NLC Region

During the year, Minerals and Energy Branch staff either convened consultations, managed statutory or contractual responsibilities associated with the following mines in the NLC region:

OPERATIONAL MINES

  • Alcan Gove mine in northeast Arnhem Land;
  • Gulkula bauxite mine in northeast Arnhem Land;
  • Bootu Creek manganese mine near Tennant Creek;
  • Roper Bar iron ore mine near Ngukurr;
  • SIL80 Ilmenite mine near Minyerri;
  • Roper Valley iron ore project near Minyerri; and
  • Numerous gold-producing mines operating or nearing start-up in the Pine Creek region.

Mine Closure and Rehabilitation

  • Frances Creek iron ore mine near Pine Creek (in care and maintenance);
  • Newmont copper mine (former Woodcutters), near Batchelor;
  • Former Rum Jungle uranium mine site, near Batchelor; and
  • Former Nabarlek uranium mine site in the West Arnhem region.

Ranger Uranium Mine

The Ranger uranium mine operated by Energy Resources of Australia, on the lands of the Mirarr people, is surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park. The mine, which began in 1980, is now approaching closure, with mineral processing to cease in January 2021, followed by a five-year period for rehabilitation. After significant lobbying by the NLC and Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, the Commonwealth Minister approved a closure plan for the mine in December 2018. The plan will be updated annually and sets out a path for the mine to be closed. The plan includes cultural closure criteria.

A substantial amount of work on the development of cultural criteria has been undertaken with Traditional Owners over several years. The criteria seek to ensure wishes of Traditional Owners are considered in closure of the mine and include that the landform is accessible and traversable by people, culturally important plants and animals are present, there are no additional waterbodies on the site, traditional practices, such as burning and harvesting, have resumed and that visual connection with cultural sites has been re-established.

The NLC will work to support Traditional Owners to monitor progress towards achieving these criteria.

During the 2018-19 financial year, the NLC attended monthly inspections of the mine site and two meeting of both the Alligators Rivers Region Technical Committee and Alligators Rivers Region Advisory Committee.

The NLC also contributed to scientific working groups focusing on water quality and ecosystem restoration.

The NLC has been active in working with Traditional Owners to ensure their views on the regulation of the mine and the closure process in considered by the Commonwealth Government.

The next few years will be important for the NLC to ensure that the wishes of the Mirarr are given due consideration as planning and implementation progress towards closure of the mine.

Visual map of onshore petroleum titles in the Northern Land Council Area.
Onshore Petroleum Titles in the Northern Land Council Area

Visual map of mineral titles in the Northern Land Council Area.
Mineral Titles in the Northern Land Council Area