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Standard work plan guidelines for exploration

A guide for exploration, retention, mining and prospecting licence holders preparing exploration work plans

Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990

ISBN: 978-1-71199-821-4 (Print)
ISBN: 978-1-74146-755-0 (Web)

November 2014


Mineral exploration activities in Victoria are regulated under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (MRSDA) by the Earth Resources Regulation Branch (ERR) of the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (the department).

This guideline is designed to assist licensees to prepare an exploration standard work plan or standard work plan variation. The basic requirements for work plans are set out in Schedule 14 of the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) (Mineral Industries) Regulations 2013 (MRSDMIR).

Licensees must have an approved work plan prior to undertaking exploration work, other than low impact exploration, on a licence.

While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this guideline, should any conflict become apparent between the guidelines and the MRSDA or the MRSDMIR, then the MRSDA and the MRSDMIR will prevail.

What is a standard work plan?

Under a standard work plan, a licensee must provide site-specific information about proposed exploration activities to obtain approval. Accurate site maps of proposed work areas are required as well as site-specific assessments of environment, potential impacts and control or mitigation measures. Further information about exploration activities, terminology and standard conditions is provided in the Code of Practice for Mineral Exploration 2014 (the code).

What exploration activities can be carried out under a standard work plan?

A standard work plan can be used for any type of exploration. In particular, high disturbance exploration activities require approval under a standard work plan. Such activities may include:

  • costeaning and bulk sampling (for example, trenches or pits constructed with excavators, bulldozers or backhoes).
  • significant excavation to establish drill pads (for example, on steep slopes > 10°).
  • wide diameter drilling (Caldwell drilling).
  • underground exploration (Note: A standard exploration work plan would not be required for underground exploration approved as part of the routine activities of an operating mine).
  • road and track construction.
  • significant clearing of vegetation.

If additional exploration sites are identified during the course of an exploration program, these must be submitted for approval under a work plan variation before the additional exploration works can be undertaken.

Area work plans

Approval for lower intensity exploration activities can also be obtained under an area work plan. Such activities may include narrow diameter drilling, ditch witch sampling and minor clearing or cutting of vegetation involving hand lopping of branches, clearing of small areas of understorey, or clearing affecting a small number of trees.

An area work plan allows for the approval of certain exploration activities throughout defined project areas without requiring formal approval of individual work sites under the work plan approval process. The advantage of this approach is that the requirement for work plan variations is significantly reduced. Licensees with an area work plan approval can undertake the approved exploration activities over the life of the project without any further work plan approvals, provided all requirements of the conditions of the code and any specific licence conditions are met.  Further information on area work plans can be found in the department's, Area work plan guidelines for exploration (2014).

Low impact exploration

Low impact exploration can be undertaken without an approved work plan, but must be conducted in accordance with the code and licence conditions.

Low impact exploration is defined in Schedule 4 of the MRSDA, as exploration that does not involve any of the following:

  1. the use of explosives;
  2. the taking of flora listed under section 10 or Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988,unless that flora is taken from private land that is not owned by a public authority;
  3. the taking of flora from a community listed under section 10 or Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988,  unless that community is found on private land that is not owned by a public authority;
  4. the taking of fauna listed under section 10 or Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988;
  5. the taking of any taxon or community of flora or fauna from any habitat or parts of habitat under section 20 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988;
  6. the removal or damaging of more than 1 hectare of native vegetation if that area does not contain any native trees during either the term of the licence or a period of 5 years from the grant of the licence, whichever ends first;
  7. the removal or damaging of more than 15 native trees that have a trunk diameter of less than 40 cm at a height of 1.3 metres above ground level during either the term of the licence or a period of 5 years from the grant of the licence, whichever ends first;
  8. the removal or damaging of more than 5 native trees that have a trunk diameter of 40 cm or more at a height of 1.3 metres above ground level during either the term of the licence or a period of 5 years from the grant of the licence, whichever ends first;
  9. the creation of any road, structure or hardstand area without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land on which it is created;
  10. the use of any closed road without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land on which the road is located or undertaking works on any road without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land on which the road is located;
  11. ground intrusive work that:
    1. is within 200 metres of a waterway; or
    2. is on a slope steeper than 1 vertical : 3 horizontal; or
    3. is of greater than 2 hectares in an area of cultural heritage sensitivity during either the term of the licence or a period of 5 years from the grant of the licence, whichever ends first; or
    4. involves taking water from an aquifer, hydraulic fracturing, or excavation using heavy earth moving equipment.

Licence holders should email the Approvals Team in Earth Resources Regulation at least seven days prior to work commencing. Once reviewed, Earth Resources Regulation will advise the licence holder in writing confirming the works can be conducted under the code.

Information requirements for a standard work plan

The following sections describe the information to be included, where applicable, in a standard work plan. The level of detail that should be provided in the work plan will depend on the complexity of the project, as indicated by the type of exploration activities proposed and the characteristics of the work sites and adjacent areas. The exploration work plan must include all information, to the appropriate level of detail, outlined in Schedule 14 of the MRSDMI Regulations including a description of work, identification and assessment of risk, a risk management plan, rehabilitation proposals and consultation with landholders and local council.

The work plan should be lodged electronically via RRAM.

As a guide the following information should be considered as part of the exploration work plan:

1. Project overview

This section should provide a brief summary of the proposal, including expected commencement and finishing dates and applicant details such as:

  • licence holder
  • licence number
  • company representatives for the project.

2. Proposed exploration activities

This section should describe the type, magnitude and extent of the proposed exploration activities including:

  • Method of operation and details about equipment, including dimensions of machinery.
  • Level of disturbance of the exploration activities, for example:
    • number of drill holes (including total metres of drilling) or costeans (including length in metres and depth).
    • dimensions of disturbed area (size of drill pad, length and width of costeans, length and width of tracks and roads and extent of clearing).
  • Location.
  • Working hours.

3. Characteristics of work sites

This section should describe the environmental features and land use characteristics of the exploration work sites and the areas surrounding the sites that could be potentially impacted. The description could cover aspects such as:

  • Land tenure (for example, private, Crown land, road reserve).
  • Land use (for example, pasture, cropping, irrigation, forestry, residential, industrial and conservation).
  • Landform and soils (for example, topography, soil erosion potential, drainage lines and water bodies).
  • Vegetation and fauna on, or adjacent to, the site including: native vegetation type (Ecological Vegetation Class (EVC)), conservation status and threatened flora and fauna.
  • Location of historic or archaeological sites, including: 19th century goldfield features such as mullock heaps, machinery foundations, house sites and tracks.
  • Location of areas of cultural heritage sensitivity and Aboriginal archaeological sites such as scarred trees, stone arrangements and scatters, middens, mounds, quarries, burial sites and rock art.

The purpose of collating this information is to:

  • Provide a basis for assessing the type of impacts that exploration activities may cause.
  • Provide a basis for appropriate site selection (for example, steepness of terrain and access).
  • Determine who should be consulted about potential impacts.
  • Determine what control options should be implemented to ensure that the risk of potential impacts is minimised to an appropriate level.

This section should also describe any specific sensitive features (Table 1) of the exploration work site or in close proximity to the work site that may be affected by exploration activities.

Table 1. Examples of sensitive features

Sensitive features

  • Areas of cultural heritage sensitivity.
  • National parks and conservation reserves.
  • Residential areas.(Note: Section 45 of the MRSDA requires the owner's consent to certain exploration works within 100m of a dwelling.)
  • Zones of high erosion potential, landslip prone areas, highly dispersive soils.
  • Natural water bodies, riparian areas & wetland, Ramsar sites, Important Wetlands and drinking water catchments.
  • Recreational areas and community facilities.
  • Presence of vulnerable, rare or threatened flora and fauna species or communities (those species and communities protected under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 or Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).
  • Habitat of threatened or rare species.
  • EVCs listed as depleted, vulnerable or endangered.
  • Areas or items of high aesthetic or scenic value.
  • Highly visible areas.

4. Information sources

There are numerous databases held by State Government which provide useful information on environmental and heritage features throughout various parts of the state and many of these are available on the internet (Table 2). However, licensees should consult locally with Crown land Managers (including Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Parks Victoria), the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and private land owners / occupiers to confirm the accuracy of this information and confirm the occurrence of any sensitive features throughout the project area.

5. Location maps

Site maps clearly identifying the location of the proposed exploration and showing land use and environmental features should be provided at suitable scales such as 1:25,000 or 1:10,000. Features on a site map should include:

  • location of the exploration work sites in relation to readily identifiable geographic features, such as tracks, buildings and fences, waterways and vegetation
  • sensitive features in the vicinity of the work sites
  • land tenure
  • proposed access tracks.

Figure 1 is an example of the minimum requirements for a site map. The site map should be of sufficient detail to enable the on-the-ground location of a work site. In certain circumstances more detailed site maps may be required (for example, where works are proposed in close proximity to sensitive features).

The site maps should be accompanied with an index map to illustrate where the site maps are located in relation to the licence boundary. Figure 2 is an example of an index map.

All maps and plans should include:

  • AMG coordinate grid (GDA 94 map datum)
  • the direction of north
  • legend
  • scale
  • title, date of drawing and date of last revision.

Table 2. Natural resource information sources

Natural resource information


Land tenure

interactive maps:

  • tenement boundaries.
  • Crown land, restricted Crown land and exempt areas.
  • land parcels & property. Resources Regulation web page)

-Explore Victoria Online - GeoVic

Map layers: Current Tenements and Land Status & Boundaries

Landforms & soils

  • state-wide and regional maps & descriptions including: Land Systems, Land Management Units & Soils.
  • regional catchment strategies.

-Victorian Resources Online


Ecological Vegetation Class (EVC):

  • maps (1:25,000)
  • EVC benchmark datasheets provides species lists, landform, soil & rainfall information
  • EVC descriptions

Permitted clearing regulations (NVIM tool)

  • Native vegetation Location risk map
  • Native vegetation condition map
  • Strategic biodiversity score map

-Biodiversity Interactive map : includes EVC layer, bioregional conservation status and tree cover & density maps.

-EVC Benchmarks and Descriptions: select 'Environment & wildlife' then 'Biodiversity' then 'EVC Benchmarks'.

-Categorises native vegetation clearing proposals into risk-based pathways. Generates a Biodiversity assessment report for low risk-based clearing proposals.

GeoVic: EVC and tree cover maps are also available on GeoVic (see above) for overlaying Tenement Boundaries and Land Status

  • state-wide and regional native vegetation and biodiversity plans

-Victorian Resources Online

local government:

  • roadside management plans
  • municipal vegetation strategies
  • municipal weed strategies.

Contact appropriate municipality


  • Benchmark datasheets are not an exhaustive species list. For more detailed site information, seek advice from appropriate regional DEPI staff and consult the Victorian Flora Information System.EVC mapping should be verified with field assessments.

Flora and fauna: species information

  • species lists, descriptions, photographs, sites & maps

-Victorian Flora Information System; DEPI database (purchase from Viridans).

-Atlas of Victorian Wildlife DEPI database (purchase from Viridans).

-Advisory List of Rare Or Threatened Plants In Victoria.

-Advisory List Of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna In Victoria.

DEPI Flora and Fauna Planners, Biomap

Heritage sites

  • site no., descriptions & coordinates

Heritage Victoria: Heritage Register, list of relevant sites provided when the licence is granted.

Aboriginal archaeological sites

  • site no. & coordinates

Aboriginal Affairs Victoria: provides list when licence is granted

  • areas of cultural heritage sensitivity

-Maps of cultural heritage sensitivity

GeoVic: cultural heritage sensitivity and place maps are also available on GeoVic for overlaying Tenement Boundaries and Land Status


  • maps & descriptions

-Biodiversity Interactive Map: includes Important Wetlands and Ramsar Wetlands.

GeoVic: Wetlands maps are also available on GeoVic for overlaying Tenement Boundaries and Land Status.

-A directory of Important Wetlands in Australia (Department of Heritage and Environment).

-RAMSAR information sheets.

Rivers and streams

  • maps & descriptions
  • regional water management plans
  • special area (water supply catchments) plans

Victorian Resources Online

  • index of stream condition.

6. Risk Management Plan - environmental impacts, mitigation and control measures

All hazards should be identified and an assessment that any hazards may pose to the environment, the public, land, property or infrastructure must be undertaken. Consideration must be given to the nature of the hazard, and the likelihood and consequence of the hazard on the environment, public, land, property or infrastructure in the vicinity of the exploration works.

A Risk Management Plan must be submitted as part of the work plan. The Risk Management Plan must specify the control measures that eliminate or minimise as far as reasonably practicable the risks associated with the hazards. The Risk Management Plan must specify objectives, standards or acceptance criteria for each control (or a combination) and include monitoring and reporting.

Generic information about control and mitigation measures for exploration activities is provided by the Code of Practice for Mineral Exploration (2014). However, the actual control or mitigation measures proposed for a specific project should also consider local conditions and stakeholder requirements.

This section should provide:

1. An assessment of the potential environmental impacts of the exploration, for example:

  • soil contamination
  • loss of native vegetation
  • noise
  • light
  • erosion and sediment inflow to water courses from road or drill pad construction
  • disturbance of fauna.

The assessment should consider both potential onsite and offsite environmental impacts.

2. Proposed measures to mitigate or control environmental impacts such as:

  • Planning work sites to avoid clearing and to minimise the extent of disturbance.
  • Identifying and avoiding sensitive areas such as threatened flora.
  • Maintenance of vehicles and machinery to prevent oil spillage.
  • Constructing noise barriers around drill rigs near residential areas.
  • Scheduling works to coincide with most appropriate field season (for example, avoiding wet periods or breeding periods of sensitive fauna).
  • Installing drainage to divert water around earth works.
  • Sealing drill holes to prevent aquifer contamination.

A description of any proposals to remove, destroy or lop vegetation, including the type and extent of the vegetation, must be provided. Clearing of native vegetation for exploration purposes (other than for low impact exploration as defined in the MRSDA) can only be undertaken if approved by ERR under the work plan and if other relevant authorisations have been obtained, such as permits required under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. Any decisions about the removal of native vegetation will be guided by the Permitted clearing of native vegetation – Biodiversity assessment guidelines.

The objective for permitted clearing of native vegetation in Victoria is:

  • No net loss in the contribution made by native vegetation to Victoria's biodiversity.

The key strategies for ensuring the objective for permitted clearing of native vegetation is achieved are:

  1. avoiding the removal of native vegetation that makes a significant contribution to Victoria's biodiversity
  2. minimising impacts on Victoria's biodiversity from the removal of native vegetation
  3. where native vegetation is permitted to be removed, ensuring it is offset in a manner that makes a contribution to Victoria's biodiversity that is equivalent to the contribution made by the native vegetation to be removed.

To demonstrate that the three step approach has been applied, the work plan must provide an assessment of the quality or conservation significance of the vegetation to be removed, demonstrate that exploration works have been planned to avoid or minimise impacts on vegetation and outline how appropriate offsets will be achieved. The level of detail required will depend on the proposed extent and potential impact of clearing. Licensees should seek ERR's advice about addressing native vegetation issues early in the planning of an exploration project.

In addition to the above requirements, clearing of native vegetation may require approval under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This Act protects matters of 'national environmental significance'. Licensees are required to determine whether this Act applies to their exploration project.

The work plan should provide information about the proposed methods of monitoring, auditing and reporting of impacts on the environment, this makes up part of your risk management plan.

A monitoring program should be undertaken where there are any aspects of the project that could cause a significant environmental impact. The program should describe how the monitoring will be undertaken and how it will be reported.

For instance, noise monitoring may be required if drilling is undertaken in urban areas or monitoring of rehabilitation works may be required, such as checking the progress of reseeding six months after completion. In areas where consent is required for exploration works, such as on restricted Crown land (section 44, MRSDA), there may be specific monitoring requirements imposed as a condition of the consent.

The monitoring results should be used to assess whether the impacts of exploration are acceptable and, if not, to determine appropriate control options or mitigation measures and modify operations accordingly. Monitoring and reporting pro forma for incident reporting, environmental issues and rehabilitation are provided in the code.

The results of environmental monitoring, including monitoring of rehabilitation works, should be provided to the department, as part of the risk management plan, and submitted as part of the licensees' annual technical report. The requirements for annual technical reports are outlined in A Guide for Exploration and Mining Licence Holders for Reporting on Exploration Activities (2006). The licensee should also immediately report any environmental or safety incidents or complaints to Earth Resources Regulation.

7. Rehabilitation

A description of the proposed methods of rehabilitation of any disturbed areas, including revegetation proposals, proposals for the establishment and management of any offsets required under the permitted clearing guidelines and, where relevant, proposals for the removal of plant and equipment must be included in the work plan. Plans for the removal of all material produced on or introduced to the licence area, such as drill core, cuttings, sample bags, flagging tape, grid pegs, plant, equipment and any waste materials, should also be outlined.

The proposed rehabilitation must comply with the relevant conditions listed in the code and refer to relevant guidelines, such as Abandonment of Mineral Drillholes (2002).

The specific methods to be used to rehabilitate areas disturbed by the works proposed in the work plan should be described. For example, the reuse of stockpiled topsoil, surface re-contouring, revegetation with seed-bearing mulch and the rehabilitation of drillholes.

The licensee will be required to provide a report on the final rehabilitation of the licence prior to the return of the rehabilitation bond.

8. Consultation and community engagement

The work plan should describe the proposed arrangement for consultation with private land owners / occupiers, Crown land Managers, local councils and the broader community. This section refers to consultation requirements over and above the consents and compensation agreements required by the MRSDA.

Under section 39A of the MRSDA, all licensees have a duty to consult with the community throughout the period of the licence. The type and level of consultation needed depends on the complexity of the project, the potential risks and who may be affected. Information on how to identify communities and the requirements for the duty to consult is provided in the code and publication Community Engagement Guidelines for Mining and Exploration in Victoria (2008)'.

Consultation should commence at the design stage of an exploration program to ensure that any risks associated with an operation are identified early in the process, concerns of land owners / occupiers and local residents are appropriately considered, and exploration works will not cause unnecessary adverse effects or conflict with other land users.

This section should demonstrate that relevant regulatory agencies and stakeholders potentially affected by the proposal have been identified and appropriately consulted about the design of the work plan, and that the licensee has made arrangements to ensure appropriate ongoing consultation will occur during and after the exploration project.

The licensee should provide a list of relevant contacts and organisations in the work plan and also describe how and when they will be contacted. This may include regional staff of ERR, DELWP and Parks Victoria, private land owners / occupiers, indigenous communities, other local residents, special interest groups, the local water authority, the local municipal council, VicRoads and the Catchment Management Authority.

Examples of specific arrangements and requirements for ongoing consultation include:

  • Agreement with the land owner / occupier or Crown land Manager regarding the design and route of access tracks, the location of stored top soil, details of reseeding and rehabilitation, and the timing of this.
  • Safety, access or amenity issues for recreational Crown land users.
  • Impacts of exploration activities, such as drilling, in urban areas and the notification of, and consultation with, local residents prior to commencing works.

Figure 1. Site map

Standard Work Plan: EL8888

Standard Work Plan: EL8888 Proposed Exploration Sites, Map B

Figure 2. Index map

Standard Work Plan: Index Map EL8888

Standard Work Plan: Index Map EL8888