What are minerals used for?
We use minerals in our lives much more than we may realise. Often, many of us aren't aware that minerals are needed to make a variety of everyday items. Here are some of the common items which use minerals in their making: toothpaste; pencils, paint, glass, paper, drinks cans, medicines, toiletries, soaps, detergents, cosmetics, fireworks, phones, glue, camera lenses, plaster, cement, fertiliser, mineral water, antiseptic, computers, lightbulbs, stainless steel, talcum powder, dietary supplements - the list goes on!
Minerals are also important for developing the cleaner technologies required for our green energy transformation, such as wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and energy storage units, transmission lines, and electric wiring.
Where do we get these minerals?
Minerals are found in the Earth's crust throughout the world. A mineral deposit has to be very big to make it worth extracting (that is a viable mineral deposit). Deposits can only be extracted (mined) where they are found.
What is mineral exploration, or mineral prospecting?
Mineral prospecting is the process undertaken by geologists, usually in a company or partnership, to find a viable mineral deposit.
Prospecting uses different techniques, such as examining of historical and geological records (desk studies), surveying the land, the examination of rocks (geological studies), collecting small samples of rocks, soil or sediments for analysis (geochemical surveys), or measuring certain properties of the rocks in the area, for example their magnetic properties (geophysical surveying).
If these techniques yield promising results, the geologists may wish to carry out drilling or to dig a shallow temporary trench to investigate the rock at depth.
Drilling extracts narrow diameter core samples, to build up a better picture of the geology below. Trenching is excavating and exposing bedrock for the same purposes.
Can anyone prospect for minerals?
Anybody can apply for the right to explore for minerals to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment through the prospecting licensing process. In practice, mineral exploration is a costly activity and there is a substantial risk that after many years of prospecting, you may not find a viable deposit. Licensees also require specific technical skills and qualifications. For that reason, applications for prospecting licences are usually made by companies.
What is a prospecting licence?
A prospecting licence (PL) is a permit, issued by the Minister, which allows the holder (the licensee) to prospect for specified minerals in a defined geographic area referred to as a prospecting licence area (PLA). The areas are approximately 35 sq km with their perimeters usually following townland boundaries.
A prospecting licence will normally be valid for six years and will entitle the licensee to carry out various activities in the search for certain (specified) minerals. Prospecting licences can be renewed, subject to the satisfaction of the Minister.
There are a number of conditions to the granting of a prospecting licence, namely evidence of technical capability and financial viability; rationale for why particular minerals are being sought; and an appropriate exploration programme for those minerals. The licensee must also commit to minimum exploration expenditure.
Who administers prospecting licences?
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment can issue a licence to a private operator to prospect for minerals in Ireland. The Minister is advised in that role by the Exploration and Mining Division within the Department.
The Exploration and Mining Division formulates and implements minerals policy, administers State prospecting and mining licences and provides advice on all mineral regulatory matters. In certain circumstances, the Department may undertake the remediation and monitoring of old mine sites and site safety works.
The Exploration and Mining Division does not regulate petroleum or quarries for stone, sand, gravel, clay or aggregates, with some limited exceptions.
Following the evaluation of an application, if it is deemed acceptable, an offer is then made to the company, setting out the terms of the prospecting licence and the area to be licensed. On acceptance, notification of the Minister's intention to grant or renew a prospecting licence is then advertised.
Is there a difference between mineral exploration and mining?
Mineral exploration (prospecting) and mining are often confused with each other. Mineral exploration is not mining. They are two very different activities given their environmental impacts and scale. Different regulatory rules apply to each and there is a completely separate and distinct licence application process for each activity.
A prospecting licence relates to the activity of exploring for minerals only and does not give the licence holder permission to mine.
Does mineral exploration always lead to mining?
The State has issued thousands of prospecting licences for mineral exploration over the years. Only a handful of licences have led to mining operations. If a viable mineral deposit is discovered, and if a company wishes to extract those minerals, they will need to go through a separate mining licence application process.
What is mining?
Mining is the activity of removing valuable minerals from the ground. In order to consider mining, you first have to be sure that there is a viable mineral deposit. There are two main types of mine – surface (also known as open pit or open cast) and underground.
How do you get a mining licence?
If you have a prospecting licence and you find a viable mineral deposit, you cannot just extract those minerals.
If you want to mine the minerals discovered during prospecting, there are three separate licences you will need to get from the Government:
- An integrated pollution control (IPC) licence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). IPC licences aim to prevent or reduce emissions to air, water and land, reduce waste and use energy/resources efficiently. An IPC licence is a single integrated licence which covers all emissions from the facility and its environmental management
- Planning permission from the local authority (including a full environmental impact assessment and public consultation)
- A mining lease or licence from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment
The Minister will not consider granting a mining lease or licence until both the planning permission and an IPC licence have been granted.
How are mines monitored?
Environmental monitoring of a mine is performed under an IPC licence from the EPA. Enforcement activities are carried out by the EPA through inspections, audits and emission monitoring. Inspectors assess the results of emissions monitoring carried out at licensed facilities to determine the impact, if any, of emissions on the environment. For more information visit the EPA website.
Departmental officials also monitor mining operations. At a minimum, biannual inspections of each of the main State mining facilities are undertaken by specialist mine inspectors to ensure they are compliant with the terms of the mining lease or licence.
Does Ireland have any mines?
Ireland is internationally renowned for world class zinc-lead mining. Over the last 50 years significant zinc, lead and copper discoveries have been made, including the largest underground zinc and lead mine in Europe at Navan, Co. Meath. Gypsum is also currently mined in Co. Monaghan.
How does the Minister consult with the public when a prospecting licence is to be granted or renewed?
The legislation requires 21 days' notice of the Minister's intention to grant or renew a prospecting licence and for the receipt of any submissions. The Exploration and Mining Division keeps the consultation period open for an extra nine days (a total of 30 days' consultation period).
Notification is always given through a printed notice in the newspaper that is most relevant to the prospecting licence area under consideration. Notices are also sent for public display to the appropriate Garda station(s) and local authority office(s). The same information is available online.
I am worried that a prospecting licence will lead to mining. Can I object on this basis?
No, only submissions that relate to entering on land or prospecting for minerals and that do not relate to working (mining) the minerals or compensation for working the minerals will be considered by the Minister.
In the event that licensed prospecting activities lead to an intention to mine, three separate State consents are needed, providing for public consultation. This is the appropriate time to object to mining.
I would like to object to a prospecting licence – how do I go about this?
All valid submissions are considered as part of the final decision-making process on an application. Submissions may be sent by email to EMD.info@DCCAE.gov.ie or posted to:
The Secretary General
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Exploration and Mining Division
29-31 Adelaide Road
Dublin, D02 X285
The Minister will consider only those submissions that relate to entering on land or prospecting for minerals and that do not relate to working (mining) the minerals or compensation for working the minerals.
I would like to object to a mining licence – how do I go about this?
If a company intends to develop a mine they will require three separate consents, providing for public consultation. This is the appropriate time to object to mining.
The regulation and licensing of mining for minerals is an independent and separate process from prospecting.
Who owns Ireland's minerals?
Minerals legislation is complex. What follows is general guidance only and does not purport to be a statement of the law.
Minerals are either State owned or privately owned. Approximately two thirds of scheduled minerals are State owned, as is all gold and silver.
How do I find out who owns the mineral rights on my land?
Landowners can find out from their title deeds if they own the minerals on or under their land. In many instances, where the minerals are privately owned, the owner of the land will also be the owner of the minerals. There are some instances when the minerals are privately owned but do not belong to the landowner; these are mostly in areas of historic mining. Mineral ownership is complex, and good legal advice is advisable.
Do I need a licence for recreational gold panning?
Recreational gold panning activities do not need a licence from the Minister. The Department considers recreational gold panning activities to be those that utilise only hand-held, non-motorized equipment. Examples of such equipment include a gold pan, shovel, hand-operated suction device, trowel, sieve and small-pry tools.
The use of powered or mechanized equipment (for example trommels, high-bankers or other concentrators, rocker boxes, suction dredges or vac-pac pumps, earth moving equipment, and so on) is not classified as recreational gold panning and instead is a mining activity. The use of this equipment for gold panning purposes will need a mining lease from the Department.
A recreational panner should not operate in the same stream, river or channel for more than two days in any one calendar month. Before commencing their activity, panners should contact the local National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) ranger to ensure that the site they wish to pan is not environmentally sensitive (that is likely to be harmed by a single panning event) or legally protected.
Is cyanide used in mineral exploration?
Cyanide is not used in mineral exploration.
A company has been granted a prospecting licence; can they start drilling, trenching or working in sensitive sites?
If a prospecting licensee wishes to carry out drilling or dig a temporary trench, an application must be made in advance to the Minister and it will be screened for compliance with environmental protection legislation. This applies no matter where the activity is proposed. On the rare occasion that a company proposes to carry out work within a Natura 2000 site, the Minster will seek the view of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Licensees are obliged to follow the Exploration and Mining Division's Guidelines for Mineral Exploration, as part of their prospecting licence conditions. These guidelines set out, in considerable detail, standard operating procedures to avoid damage or pollution. All exploration activities are screened in advance to ensure that there will be no significant environmental effects.
Does a company with a prospecting licence have the right to enter onto my land?
Licensees should and do seek permission from the landowner or tenant in advance of undertaking any field-based exploration activities.
If the licensee has been unsuccessful in their efforts to reach the landowner or tenant to discuss entry onto land, the licensee may only carry out non-intrusive prospecting (for example collecting small samples of rocks or soil), without the express consent of the landowner or tenant.
I want to make a complaint about a prospecting licensee, who do I contact?
Please contact the Exploration and Mining Division at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment at EMD.info@DCCAE.gov.ie or
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Exploration and Mining Division
29-31 Adelaide Road
Dublin, D02 X285