Mining minerals

Northwest Territories says critical minerals are no substitute for ‘magic’ diamonds

After spending the week promoting critical minerals as the next big mining development in the Northwest Territories, the territorial government has recognized that it alone cannot replace the economic impact of diamonds.

The Northwest Territories’ three active diamond mines are each expected to close soon: Diavik in 2025, Gahcho Kué in 2030 and Ekati at some point in the 2030s, according to its underwater mining plan.

Critical minerals, meanwhile, are considered a rising star in the territory’s economic arsenal.

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Minerals such as zinc, cobalt, bismuth, copper and rare earth elements – all currently or likely to soon be mined in the territory – are on the national list of critical minerals, meaning they are considered vital to Canada’s future economy and would preferably be mined here. rather than imported from elsewhere.

But Northwest Territories Industry Minister Caroline Wawzonek made it clear at a news conference on Wednesday that the territory was not trying to charge for critical minerals as a comparable substitute for diamond mining. .

“That’s not the goal,” Wawzonek said.

“The good news in the mineral resources industry right now in the Northwest Territories is the breadth and variety of opportunities available to us.

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Wawzonek cited gold exploration taking place outside of Yellowknife and similar projects in Tłı̨chǫ communities as examples of other types of resource extraction that she considers important to the territory’s economic future. She added that two of the three existing diamond mines are still exploring other opportunities that could extend their lifespan.

“It’s not just about the critical minerals we have to offer. We can’t get there without the infrastructure,” Premier Caroline Cochrane said at the same news conference. It seeks investments that it believes will build the infrastructure needed to further support mining while supporting economic development through construction.

“There won’t be a magic button to replace diamond mines,” Wawzonek said, adding that “it’s not necessary if we can get all these things done.”

The 2022 federal budget promised significant contributions to grow the critical minerals industry, including $3.8 billion to enhance exploration and a Critical Minerals Growth Fund to attract private investment.

The federal government has compiled a list of 31 minerals and metals that it says will position Canada as a leading supplier in the critical mineral boom. Twenty-three of these are in the Northwest Territories, in deposits considered strong enough to merit exploration.

Nechalacho, the first in a wave of critical new mining projects in the Northwest Territories, went into production just over a year ago. It is also the first rare earth mine in Canada.

More recently, the GNWT agreed to sell Mactung, a tungsten deposit in the Mackenzie Mountains, to a private company for a fee of up to $15 million if a mine is built.

Wawzonek said she saw no reason why a mine would not be commissioned at Mactung, calling it “one of the highest quality and largest tungsten deposits outside of China. in the world”.

Social and environmental leadership

Cochrane and Wawzonek spent the first half of the week at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto, or PDAC, promoting investment in the territory’s mining sector.

The conference, billed as the world’s largest mineral industry networking event, attracts some 2,000 investors to meet with governments, companies and organisations.

Industry Minister Caroline Wawzonek at the PDAC in an image posted to her Twitter account.

The Northwest Territories has passed the PDAC telling potential investors that the territory is the place to invest in socially and environmentally responsible mining.

“Investors and shareholders as well as the public are demanding higher ESG returns and better corporate citizens,” Wawzonek said Wednesday, using a common industry term for environmental, social and governance approaches.

The territory says its own version of the ESG is “ESG-I,” adding an I to represent “an Indigenous lens.”

Ms Wawzonek said the Northwest Territories was once known for having an “overly complex” or “cumbersome” regulatory system, but she believes investors are changing the way they view the territory’s policies.

“Our regulatory regime is quite unique. There are things that can make it look difficult from the outside, because people may be less familiar with it when they first come to the North,” the minister said.

“When you go through that on the other end, you have a project that already demonstrates ESG principles, so you don’t have to come in and do a secondary assessment of that.”

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