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Legal Risk Rating
Score: 51
Substantial Risk
Whilst the mining code is "mature", and somewhat unique, as with fine wine it has aged well. The law is clear in most respects, offering clarity of process and soft assurances that the right to mine will be honoured. Discrimination against foreigners has been removed (from 2009) and the potential for political interference mitigated by its membership in the EU. That said, the law is not without fault and would almost certainly benefit from future amendments aimed at reducing the considerable degree of government discretion that the Mines Act currently contains.

Regulatory Corruption Risk

Moderate Corruption Potential

Corruption Exposure Risk

Low Corruption Risk

Legal Risk Rating

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Mining Overview Commentary plus sign



Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, bordered by the Bay of Biscay to the north, France to the north and northeast, Andorra to the northeast, Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Gibraltar to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the south and east. It also encompasses the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands and Ceuta and Melilla on the North African mainland.

Spain is divided into autonomies and there are currently 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities. Considerable power has been devolved to the Spanish Autonomies and the country now has a highly decentralized system of governance. Each of the autonomous communities has its own parliamentary system, although numerous competences remain the purview of the State government.

Mining has occurred in Spain for over 5,000 years. Its mineral wealth attracted the Phoenicians, Romans and many others, accounting for numerous invasions. In the Southern Province of Huelva, there exists the city of Rio Tinto and a copper mine that gave rise to one of the world’s largest mining companies with its namesake. In the last 15 years, Spain has witnessed a revitalization of its mineral industry with several companies developing mineral deposits or mining new or old mines in the country. Spain’s most valuable mineral production concerns alumina, cement, coal, steel, gold, zinc and copper. That said the mining and minerals industry contributes only a small amount to the countries GDP (reportedly less than 1% in 2012), with industry, services and agriculture amongst key sectors for the country and its economy.

The country ranked 35th out of 109 jurisdictions in the Fraser Institute’s annual Policy Perception Index 2015. Whilst its mining law is outdated, the Spanish administration has made it work for the most part.


In general terms, the exploration and development of mineral deposits in Spain is regulated by the Mines Act (Law 22/1973); Royal Decree 2857/1978 approving the regime for the regulation of mining; and Royal Decree 975/2009 concerning waste management and rehabilitation. These laws are applicable to the whole country. According to Article 2 of the Mines Act, all natural deposits and other geological resources in Spain are assets belonging to the public domain, however, each Autonomous Region may also enact additional mining rules, provided the basic mining system governed by national provisions is respected. At a national level the responsible body for the granting of mining rights is the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism (Ministerio de Industria, Energía y Turismo), specifically the Directorate General for Energy Policy and Mines (Dirección General de Política Energética y Minas). At a regional level the main regulatory bodies are the Regional Governments of each Autonomous Region, except where a mineral deposit crosses a regional boundary in which case the national government is the relevant regulatory body.


There are specific permits or concessions conferring the right to explore and mine minerals. They are divided into four main sections, depending on the nature of the deposit:

  • Section A: resources and deposits of little economic value and restricted geographic marketing, such as gravel, sand or ornamental rocks, etc.;


  • Section B: thermal waters and minerals, subterraneous structures and sediments (residue) arising from mining activities;


  • Section C: resources and deposits not included in Sections A, B and D. (i.e. copper, gold, silver, etc.);


  • Section D: coal; radioactive minerals; geothermal resources; bituminous rocks; and mineral deposits or geological 
resources of interest for energy.


Most foreign mining companies would be seeking permission under Section C or possibly Section D. Rights to Sections C minerals may be obtained through the following permits or concessions:

  • Exploration Permit: An exploration permit allows its holder to carry out aerial surveys, studies and similar reconnaissance work that does not affect the soil. It also grants its holder priority status to obtain investigation permits or mining concessions within the perimeter granted. It is granted for a period of one year and renewable for a further year.


  • Investigation Permit: An investigation permit vests in its holder the right to carry out, within the indicated perimeter and for a specific term (a maximum of three years), studies and work aimed at demonstrating and defining one or several Section C resources and the right, once defined, to be granted a permit for mining them. The term of an investigation permit may be renewed by the Regional Ministry of Economy and Employment for three years and, exceptionally, for successive periods.


  • Mining Concession: Mining activities must be authorised or conducted under an exploitation concession. A concession will be valid for
an initial term of 30 years and may be extended to a maximum of 90 years. An exploitation concession may be obtained without having first acquired a prior permit, provided that the existence of the mineral resource is known so that exploitation is feasible. No more than one mining concession for Section C resources may be granted for the same area of land.


Rights to develop Section C resources are granted by the Regional Ministry of Economy and Employment.


In order to commence mining operations on an exploitation concession the holder requires approval from the relevant Mining Authorities of an “Exploitation Plan”. The Exploitation Plan includes an Environmental Impact Study and a subsequent Restoration Plan, which needs approval from Environmental Authorities. Surface rights are not required to be negotiated where the land is owned by the state; in the case of private ownership, agreement must be reached with the surface rights owner in respect of access rights, but if such agreement is not possible then expropriation powers are available to the holder of Section B, C and D mineral licenses. A public technical committee determines the level of compensation to be paid.


See Spain – Environmental Overview Commentary.

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Environmental Overview Commentary plus sign



Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is located in south western Europe, bordered by the Bay of Biscay to the north, France to the north and north east, Andorra to the north east, Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the small British territory of Gibraltar to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the south and east. The Spanish territory also encompasses the Canary Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the Moroccan coastline; the Balearic Islands to the east of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea; and the small exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla which border Morocco on the tip of the North African mainland.

Mainland Spain occupies the majority of the Iberian Peninsula and with an area of over 500,000 square kilometers the country is the second largest in the European Union. Due to its large size Spain has several different climate zones; the majority of the country enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with cool, wet winters and dry, warm summers; in the southeast a semiarid climate can be found, while in the north an oceanic climate is common, with little variance in temperature throughout the year.

Due to its geographical location and climate, Spain has considerable biodiversity. Over 8,000 species of vegetation have been recorded, while Iberian lynx, wild boar, Iberian wolf, and numerous species of deer are amongst Spain’s indigenous species.

Common environmental issues include droughts, pollution, erosion, desertification and deforestation.    


The Spanish Constitution expressly declares that "the public authorities [are to protect] the rational utilisation of natural resources, relying on the essential collective solidarity". This has been interpreted as recognizing the defense and restoration of the environment as a reasonable cause for intervention by public authorities. At state level, the main regulatory body is the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente). Nevertheless, the Autonomous Regions may develop and enforce their own environmental legislation, as well as the local authorities. There are numerous environmental laws in Spain, including those governing contaminated land (Law 22/2011), the prevention and integrated control of pollution (Law 16/2002) and liability for the remediation of contaminated land (Law 26/2007), as amended.


Royal Decree 1/2008 regulates the process for obtaining an environmental authorisation (Declaración de Impacto Ambiental) for a project that might impact on the environment, including a project for the development of a mine. The Decree distinguishes between projects in respect of which an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is always required (Annex I projects) and projects that should be notified to the competent authority for determination as to whether or not an EIA is required (Annex II projects). Annex I projects include open pit or surface operations that have the following characteristics: 

  • Impact on Farms: the project would impact on a farm having a minimum size or productivity (e.g., exceeds 25 hectares);
  • Below Water Table: the project would involve the development of an area below the water table;
  • Marine Deposits: the project would involve the development of a marine deposit;
  • Visibility Near Infrastructure: the project would be visible from a highway or be within 2 kilometers of a town of 1,000 inhabitants;
  • Oxidation, etc.: the project could result in excesses of acceptable levels of acidity, toxicity or other parameters that pose risks to human health or the environment, such as with sulphide ores or radioactive minerals.


Underground operations that are classified as Annex I projects are those that (a) could, by oxidation, hydration or dissolution, produce acidic or alkaline waters leading to changes in pH or the release of metals that impact on the natural environment, (b) involve the mining of radioactive minerals, or (c) are located within 1 kilometer of an urban center. Processing facilities, such as smelters, fall within the integrated permit process in Spain (Law 26/2002) where a single environmental permit is required for the industrial activity. An integrated permit is granted by the competent environmental authority in the relevant Autonomous Region.

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