In general, regulation of the mining industry predominantly takes places within national frameworks. However, increased activity in areas like Antarctica and the deep sea bed mean that increasingly international regulation is becoming of importance. Additionally, bilateral, multilateral and regional agreements regarding transboundary environmental harm are ever increasing: also leading to further intervention of international instruments. There are several stages of mining: from site identification through to closure of the site. Different level or national and international regulation apply to each due to the different types of associated risks.
Once a site has been identified, companies must apply for licences to mine on the site. If the identified site lies within state land territories it is likely that the application will be subject to local regulation. In the UK restrictions can include if the area is within an area of natural beauty, special scientific interest, or if protected species have been identified. Such municipal regulations may be informed, at least in part, from customs of sustainable development and international instruments such as the 1992 Biodiversity Treaty and UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
However, in some cases international law can be seen to play a more important role. If the site lies in the sea or Antarctica, for example, the application is subject to UNCLOS (1982) (and in the future the ISA ‘Mining Code’ which stemmed from UNCLOS) and Antarctica Treaty (1959) regulations. These strictly determine where states can mine and furthermore imply standards pertaining to associated emissions and pollution, both operational and accidental.
Construction, extraction and processing, too, are subject to both international and national regulation.
From a national perspective, mining regulation is broadly dependent on whether states take a statutory (UK and US), contractual (The Model Minerals Agreement of Botswana) or (more rarely) the integrated legislative approach. Most states tend to utilise statutory approaches which utilise both standards and economic instruments in order to regulate factors like air and water pollution. These factors tend to be subject to international law also, due to the risk of transboundary harm. In the case of air pollution this takes the form of, inter alia, the standards set in UN Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (1979) and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). Water quality agreements include MARPOL (73/78), the London Convention (1972), the Paris Convention for Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land Based Sources (1974) and the Oslo Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Marine Dumping of Ships and Aircraft (1972). Furthermore, contamination of people’s waters and lands has previously been seen as a contravention of the right the permanent sovereignty over natural resources. The Ogoniland case has shown that this can have legal standing in courts. Currently Vedanta Resources – a UK copper mining company is facing charges for contamination of waters in Zambia.
Waste products need to be disposed of according to regulation. Often in developed countries the disposal of waste products is more heavily regulated and therefore costly. In the past this has led to companies sending wastes to states with less stringent protections. International instruments like the Basel agreement (1989) seek to remedy this. Further regional agreements like the Bamako agreement (1991) seeking to further it.
In terms of closure of mines – there is increasing national regulatory demand for closure plans to be included upon application. This is because in the past closure and reclamation has often fallen to governments and proven costly.
Product regulation can have a knock-on effect on the mining industry due to demand implications. In a domestic circumstance this could include regulation of end products. For example, 1993 Drinking water guidelines influenced the demand for metals such as copper. International regulations like EU guidelines may also have this effect. Also, on both international and domestic levels taxes of products influence demand. Internationally this may also include embargoes.