Caroline Wawzonek: Arctic Development Expo
June 17, 2022
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Good morning, everyone. I am pleased to be able to address you at your conference this week, albeit virtually. I am sorry I’m unable to meet you in person, as I am currently in Toronto attending the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention.
Before I go any further in my speech, I would like to recognize the work done by the town of Inuvik on the Arctic Development Expo. I am confident they have, as always, put together an incredible conference that welcomes local and global delegates with presentations and panel discussions and that also showcases the town’s and region’s activities, opportunities and attractions.
We are at an exciting moment in time for the mineral and LNG resource industries in the Northwest Territories. Many of you are already well-versed in the Northwest Territories and its opportunities. You may already know that the NWT is a region of untapped opportunities and investment potential but even more than just a couple years ago, there is renewed interest and momentum on several fronts that I would like to share with you this morning.
First, let me set the context for all the specific opportunities I will be highlighting. We have nearly a century’s worth of continuous mining in the North. From our beginnings in base metals like zinc, lead, and gold, we progressed to becoming the birthplace of ethically sourced diamonds in the 1990s. The breadth of our mineral potential is expanding even further, thanks to the presence of green economy metals like rare earth minerals, lithium, nickel, and cobalt needed to meet the demand of clean technologies along with many other resources recognized as critical or strategic minerals and metals.
Natural resource development in the NWT is conducted under a unique NWT approach that encompasses what are lately becoming buzz words in the industry of Environmental, Social and Governance principles, or ESG, and ESG-I that adds Indigenous values. We have seen projects from the NWT recognized globally for their socially and environmentally conscious management, and partnerships with Indigenous governments and organizations.
As many of you will be experiencing, there is a global shift in the importance of stewardship, social equity, consistent regulatory practices, and Indigenous partnerships. This shift increases our competitive advantage for investment. We are world leaders in these measures, well known for our environmental oversight, Indigenous representation in regulatory processes, and the recognition of traditional knowledge. In fact, the NWT model; the ESG–I, with its unique approach to collaborative and consensus-based legislative development, resource royalty sharing, and socio-economic and benefit agreements, is anchored by the critical leadership of NWT Indigenous Governments in resource exploration and development in Canada.
The 2014 NWT Devolution Agreement established the Intergovernmental Council to allow the public and Indigenous governments to collaborate on matters related to lands and resource management while respecting the autonomy and authority of each government. This Council is an important central figure as the NWT shifts progressively to an even stronger ESG-I model, and it plays a key role in the development of the Regulations that will bring the made in the NWT Mineral Resources Act into force
The wealth of NWT’s natural resources is, of course, not limited to minerals. We are home to large reserves of natural gas, both on- and offshore. In total, an estimated 16.2 trillion cubic feet of conventional natural gas, has been discovered.
To that point, one of the key projects I would like to highlight is led by the Inuvialuit Petroleum Corporation.
The Inuvialuit Energy Security Project is set to tap the M-18 natural gas well in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region near Tuktoyaktuk. A proposed plant will convert the gas into Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG, and synthetic diesel for distribution by road to homes and businesses in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.
The Inuvialuit of the Beaufort Delta have talked for many years about capturing the trillions of cubic feet of gas in their settlement area to displace imported diesel fuel with a reliable, less costly, and local energy alternative.
There has been impressive progress made on this project over the past few years. Letters of Intent, feasibility studies, discussions, regulatory processes and development plans have been underway, focusing on every potential aspect of the project. This progress has primarily been made with the focused leadership of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and its Chair, Duane Smith.
Those of you who are familiar with the NWT will know that we have a different physical perspective on developing LNG for market. From our vantage point on top of the world, the gas that exists in the Delta is closer to the Asian marketplace than most people know.
From the Mackenzie River Delta, it is just over 3,800 nautical miles through the Beaufort Sea and Bering Strait to Tokyo, Japan. That’s 500 nautical miles closer than the route from Vancouver to Tokyo; and well over 1,300 nautical miles closer than it is from the Yamal Peninsula to Tokyo, from where Russia supplies LNG by ship to East Asian markets. You will see a presentation by Mike Harlow from the Department of ITI on the progress of the LNG plans.
Another project to highlight is Debeers Canada Gahcho Kué. In May, the mine received the prestigious Towards Sustainable Mining Excellence Award from the Mining Association of Canada.
Gahcho Kué’s commitment and focus on community engagement and environmental stewardship reflects the relationships and respect that exist between the NWT’s mining industry and Indigenous governments and organizations.
It is difficult to talk about any of the diamond projects without a question as to the remaining life left in these projects. While closure dates are still on the horizon, there are recent new discoveries and ongoing exploration. One significant example of this is the Point Lake project at the long running Ekati Mine. A water license has been recently approved, which will provide an important transition between the mine’s existing operations and longer-term developments given that these latter opportunities require a period of design, permitting, and construction, but which could then contribute to extending the life of a well-established NWT mine.
Another exciting and very recent development from the beginning of June was Arctic Star’s new kimberlite discovery at its Diagras project, named ‘Arbutus’. Over the past year the company has now discovered six new kimberlites in the Lac De Gras region.
As I mentioned earlier, diamonds, gold and base metals have anchored the growth of our mining industry for close to 100 years. While these resources will always be a part of our narrative, the shift to critical minerals is driven in part by the uptick in green and digital technologies, which are becoming ever more prevalent.
The federal government has identified 31 minerals that it believes will position Canada as a leading supplier of critical minerals. Approximately two thirds of them can be found in the NWT. In fact, thanks to the success of the Nechalacho rare earth elements project, the NWT now holds claim to having the first rare earths mine in Canada, and second in North America. This positions us right at the heart of green energies and technologies of the future.
A week ago, the GNWT announced that it has accepted a letter of offer from Fireweed Zinc Inc to acquire its Mactung property, which hosts one of the world’s highest-grade tungsten deposits.
The increased demand for critical minerals is good news for projects such as NICO, Pine Point and Prairie Creek, which are nearing mine construction decisions. Menzie McEachern of ITI will present on our minerals focused work, as well as on the mineral potential in this region.
I said at the outset that these are exciting times for the mineral and gas industries but in truth, we are at an exciting moment in time on several economic fronts. At the heart of it all are still the kinds of partnerships and collaboration that help define the strength of the resources sector. Another key, common feature is innovation. Before I close, I would like to highlight where innovation features in our economic future.
Innovation is a key to economic competitiveness, productivity, and employment growth, and a major contributor to quality of life. Inuvik has become a hub for innovation in the NWT, with its established makerspace, Innovate Centre for Arts, Crafts and Technology; the satellite array, hosting antennas owned by Germany, Sweden and France; and is the site of the Western Arctic Research Centre which houses the Arctic Research Institute of Aurora College. This infrastructure is supporting cutting edge research, scientific collaboration, and ideation across numerous platforms and sectors.
In working to support and advance the rate of innovation, the NWT will need to leverage its existing strengths. The natural resource sector is looking at technology development to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve potentially not only GHG emissions reductions but carbon neutral mining. The traditional knowledge held by Indigenous people provides opportunities to strengthen research and improve decision-making. The NWT’s northern location offers important research and development opportunities in areas like cold climate and cold weather testing including hybrid engines, satellite positioning, and climate change.
There are exciting NWT conversations focused on innovation. that can help these local or micro-economies contribute to a territorial knowledge economy.
Thinking outside the box is the key to innovation, and we will be promoting the concepts of innovation and highlighting northern innovators over the summer while the Innovation Action Plan is finalized for the fall. Alexandrea Malakoe from the Department of ITI will be addressing the work underway on innovation and its potential.
To benefit from all our strengths and the opportunities I have described, we need to continue to face barriers like internet connectivity, transportation and energy infrastructure and educational access. These are challenges faced not only by the NWT but rural and northern jurisdictions across Canada.
There is good news on each of these. Improvements to community broadband infrastructure are happening across the NWT to bring all communities up to a 50/10 level of service and new fibre lines will be connecting Tuktoyaktuk and Whati. Redundancy improvements are also on the horizon with projects coming from Yukon and potentially under Great Slave Lake. We continue to advance the Mackenzie Valley Highway and the Talston hydro expansion with participation with indigenous governments from these respective regions. And Aurora College’s planned transition into a polytechnic university over the next few years will provide significant opportunities and resources to expand research, education, and training, in an institutional hub built to further the territory’s identified strengths and help close the recognized program gaps.
The NWT is a vibrant jurisdiction with opportunities in abundance. We are looking for new partnerships across a variety of ventures and areas of development. We continue to build on our best practices and our strengths, and we are looking to welcome like-minded investors and partners. We are ready to raise our bar once again and are likely one of the best positioned jurisdictions to do that at this moment in time.
Thank you for your time this morning, I hope you enjoy the conference and I know you will enjoy everything Inuvik has to offer.