Offshore mineral exploration and mining  

We regulate mineral activity in Australian waters under the Offshore Minerals Act 1994.

Australian waters are the offshore area beyond coastal waters, starting 3 nautical miles from shore. 

To explore and mine minerals in Australian waters, you must obtain an Offshore Mineral Licence.

Mineral exploration and mining activities can only happen in Australian waters with approval from the relevant Joint Authority. The responsible federal minister and the relevant state or Northern Territory minister generally make up the Joint Authority.

We, in partnership with the states and the Northern Territory, advise the Joint Authority on awarding exploration licences and other titles. We also work with the states and Northern Territory to regulate industry activities. The relevant state or Northern Territory also performs the functions of the Designated Authority.

The states and territories administer any activity within the first 3 nautical miles of the Australian shoreline.


A mineral:

  • is defined as a naturally occurring substance or a naturally occurring mixture of substances
  • may be in the form of sand, gravel, clay, limestone, rock, evaporates, shale, oil-shale and coal.

Minerals do not include oil and gas.


There are 5 different licences that allow offshore mineral exploration and mining activities. 

Exploration Licence

This licence covers the exploration phase of a project and gives exclusive rights to the holder to apply for further approvals to undertake exploration related activities.

Retention Licence

This licence ensures that rights to this area are retained pending a project transiting from the exploration phase to the commercial mining phase.

It allows the licence holder rights to an area:

  • where a significant mineral deposit has been found
  • which is not commercially viable in the short term
  • there is reasonable prospect for development in the longer term.

Mining Licence

This licence covers the commercial mining phase of a project, authorising the recovery of minerals from the licence area, subject to further approvals.

Works Licence

This licence authorises associated operations to be carried outside of an exploration, a retention or a mining licence area, such as a jetty.

Special Purpose Consent

This licence authorises scientific investigations, a reconnaissance survey or the collection of a small amount of minerals. It does not give the holder any exclusive rights or any preference to granting other licences over the area. It can be granted for an area already covered by another licence if the applicant has permission from the affected licence holder.

How to apply

The Offshore Minerals Act 1994: Guideline for Applicants provides information on how to apply for a mineral exploration licence.

Before lodging an application, email to find out more.

You must submit your application to the relevant Joint Authority and lodge it with the Designated Authority.


The fees to apply for and renew licences are in the Offshore Minerals (Fees) Regulations 2018.

The fees table relates to sections under the Offshore Minerals Act:

  • exploration licences (s56 to apply for standard block, s78 to apply for tender block, s106 for renewals)
  • retention licences (s139 to apply and s163 for renewals)
  • mining licences (s201 to apply for standard block, s222 to apply for tender block, s240 for renewals)
  • works licences (s272 to apply and s292 for renewals)
  • special purposes consents (s319 to apply).

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