This indicator tracks the annual land allocation for general activities related to mineral and oil-gas development. It also tracks activities related to any land use requiring a permit in the Northwest Territories (NWT).
This indicator identifies activity levels associated with each activity, providing information on the level of potential disturbance that may result from the activity. Some of these activities result in changes to the landscape resulting in footprints of various sizes. This may in turn fragment the landscape and associated wildlife habitat. Development related footprints are tracked using other indicators in the LANDSCAPE CHANGES focal point.
Land tenure for mineral and oil-gas development
Information on the total annual amount of land rights issued for mineral and oil-gas development activities in the NWT is compiled using several types of permits and licences. These include:
- For Mineral Development – from least to greatest potential for environmental disturbance (see side bar):
- prospecting permits
- mineral claims
- mineral leases
- For Oil-gas Development – from least to greatest potential for environmental disturbance:
- oil-gas explorationlicences
- significant discovery licences
- production licences.
Additional information on seismic activities is also tracked.
Data on land rights issued for mineral and associated activities was obtained from the Mining Recorder’s Office, Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), GNWT. Data for onshore oil and gas development was obtained from the Petroleum Resources Division1, ITI, GNWT and data for offshore oil and gas development was obtained from INAC Oil and Gas Directorate, Oil and Gas Annual Reports5. The data includes Nunavut prior to 1999, except where noted.
Land allocation permitting for oil and gas development1
Exploration Licence: gives right to explore for a maximum of 9 years and gives exclusive right to drill and test for oil and gas; gives exclusive right to develop allocated lands to produce petroleum. Additional land and water use permits are required depending on the type of activities undertaken.
Significant Discovery Licence: in addition to the rights in an exploration licence, it confers exclusive rights, for a time specified in the licence, to obtain a production licence on allocated lands. Additional land and water use permits are required depending on the type of activities undertaken
Production Licence: in addition to the rights conferred in a significant discovery licence, it confers exclusive right to produce oil and gas on allocated lands, and title to the petroleum so produced for 25 years. Additional land and water use permits are required depending on the type of activities undertaken.
Land allocation permitting for mining development4
Prospecting Permit: allows prospecting activities in a large area without competition for a period of 3-5 years; give exclusive rights to stake a mineral claim within an area.
Mineral Claim: gives exclusive mineral exploration and prospecting rights. Remains active only if ‘representation work” is done such as stripping, drilling, trenching, sinking shafts and driving adits or drifts, geological or other exploratory work., surveying, constructing roads or airstrips to provide access to the claim. Mineral claims expire after 10 years if there is no application for a lease. Additional land and water use permits may be required depending on the type of work undertaken3.
Mineral Lease: gives right to undertake activities to extract and remove minerals from the site3. You need a lease to sell or otherwise dispose of minerals or ore with a gross value of more than $100,000 in one year. Additional land and water use permits are required depending on the type of activities undertaken.
Note: Data on the land rights issued for mineral and associated activities was obtained from the Mining Recorder’s Office, Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), GNWT2, Data for onshore oil and gas development was obtained from the Petroleum Resources Division,1 ITI, GNWT and data for offshore oil and gas development was obtained from INAC Oil and Gas Directorate, Oil and Gas Annual reports5. The data includes Nunavut prior to 1999, except where noted.
Land use activities
Information on the annual number of permits issued for a variety of land uses is grouped into two categories: industrial and non-industrial. Industrial activities performed within lands permitted for mineral or oil and gas development are also included in the list of land use permits. For example, if seismic activities that take place on land allocated under an oil and gas exploration licence require a land use permit, they will be included as an activity in the land use information.
Activities requiring a permit have varying potential for causing disturbance to the environment.Enough information for each type of activity is provided to assess potential impact levels, but the levels themselves are not recorded. If the “end results” of each activity have a medium or long-term footprint (such as the seismic lines that resultfrom seismic activities), they are included in indicators on LANDSCAPE CHANGES.
For the NWT south of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (here called the Mackenzie Valley), data on land use permits were obtained from the Online Registry – Land and Water Boards of the Mackenzie Valley6. Data on land use for the Inuvialuit Settlement Region is obtained from the Environmental Impact Screening Committee, Online Registry2.
The information is not readily tabulated for each NWT ecozone at this time, but this may be available in the future.
Tracking land right issuance for mineral and oil-gas development using licences provides insights on where industrial activities occur each year. Tracking land use permits provides insights on what types of activities occur each year. Together, this information produces an indicator that allows us to track changes in activity levels, hence in potential for disturbance, across the NWT.
In terms of the environment, tracking the location of development activities and the types of permits that are applied for annually also provides insight on potential cumulative effects which may result from current and potential future developments.
Current view: status and trend
Land for mineral development activities
Prospecting and mineral claims
Land under prospecting and mineral claims in the NWT reached a peak in the 1990s during the diamond staking rush3 in the Southern Arctic and Taiga Shield north of Yellowknife. At this time approximately 22 million hectares (an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom, 220,000 km2) of land were held under claims. After this claims rush, the number of hectares under mineral claims steadily declined to a low in 2001-2004. The recent rush in exploration was related to renewed exploration for diamonds, in addition to more exploration for other minerals such as gold, base metals, rare earth elements, and uranium. In 2005-2006,exploration had diversified and occurred in all NWT ecozones, with some focus on the Thelon Basin, and lands northeast of Great Bear Lake3. Both exploration and mineral claims have declined since 2008 with the global economy.
The total land under mineral leased claims, typically for active mines, is very small compared to land allocated to prospecting and claims, but it increased by about 3.5 times between 1987 (2,500 km2) and 2007 (8,700 km2; the size of PuertoRico, or about 0.7% of the NWT). The greatest increases have been subsequent to 2001, when area under mineral leased claims had more than doubled in six years, mostly in the Southern Arctic. This increase was mostly due to diamond mines.
Land allocations for oil and gas development activities
Since 2003, the greatest increases in oil and gas exploration (both exploration licences and significant discovery licences) in the NWT have occurred in the Beaufort Sea. The Mackenzie Valley, near Norman Wells, has been the location for the majority of production licences. Production licences in the Mackenzie Delta have allocated only 2,500 ha of land (too small to show on the graph) compared to almost 2 million ha in the Mackenzie Valley. Production licences in the Arctic Islands amount to 1,224 ha.
Land use activities
Graphs under review. The SOE team is verifying the data available on the land and water board’s Online Registry for completeness5. Number of land use permits and water licenses related to industry-type activities issued in the Mackenzie Valley by the GLWB, SLWB, WLWB, and the MVLWB. Source: Online Registry – Land and Water Boards of the Mackenzie Valley. Information on types reproduced as retrieved from the source. All “miscellaneous” permits are moved to the “industrial” chart as of December 2012. Miscellaneous types include bridge constructions, remediation work at contaminates sites, and a large variety of other activities.
Seismic programs occur in areas where exploration permits are already in place. So the total amount of land used in seismic surveys is not in addition to land allotted to exploration licences. However, the nature of seismic activity may have a different impact on the landscape, especially when the seismic program is located in treed areas and requires clearing of vegetation.
Three Dimensional (3D) seismic activity peaked in 2001 (7,893 km2), the majority of which was focussed on the Mackenzie Delta region4. In 2006-2011, 3D dropped off to little or no activity, until 2012, when 3D activity focused in the central Mackenzie Valley and the Beaufort Sea. There were no 3D seismic programs in 2007, 2010 and 2011 and 2014.
Two Dimensional (2D) seismic programs were approximately 446km per year in 2003-2005 and then increased to 13,000 km in 2008. Seismic surveys in 2006-2008 have focussed mainly on the Beaufort Sea4. Only 59 km of 2D seismic were laid down in 2011, 71 km in 2013, and none in 2014.
Mineral and oil-gas activities typically follow a boom and bust pattern linked closely to the price of commodities found in the NWT (see the Economy focal point). Activities related to the mineral industry increased in 2005-2007 to levels higher than the ”diamond staking rush” of the late 1990s. When global markets make the extraction of these materials economically feasible, it is expected that prospecting and claim staking activities will continue to be an important industrial activity in the NWT. However, reduced commodity prices and difficulties in financing projects in remote areas of the NWT regularly result in rapid decrease in the human activities related to mineral and oil-gas development.
Oil and gas activities vary greatly per region. It has been suggested that the NWT could hold as much as 37 percent of Canada’s marketable light crude oil resources and 35 percent of its marketable natural gas resources1. Because of these reserves, it is likely that in future there will be an increase in land held for oil and gas exploration and production in the Mackenzie Valley, the Delta and the Beaufort Sea.
On April 1st, 2014, the GNWT obtained jurisdiction over most public land (now called Territorial Land, previously called Crown Land) in the NWT. The GNWT is responsible for land administration, and for authorizing most industrial activity that takes place on public land, except some parcels of federal Crown Land and land administered by Parks Canada. The GNWT also continues to administer Commissioner's land, another type of public land found mostly around settled communities. Lands with surface and/or sub-surface rights held by Aboriginal organizations (settlement lands) are subject to the provisions of land claims agreements and administered by land claims organizations.
In terms of land use permitting processes, the NWT can be viewed as two general areas, each with a different regulatory framework: (1) the Inuvialuit Settlement and (2) The Mackenzie Valley. (1) In the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), land use permits are issued by the Inuvialuit Land Administration for activities on Inuvialuit-owned lands. For activities on public lands, land use permits are issued by the GNWT. Under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the Inuvialuit Environmental Impact Screening Committee is involved in environmental screening for public lands as well as Inuvialuit owned lands. For this region, the number of activities screened is used as an indicator for land use in lieu of a land-use permit issued. (2) In the 'Mackenzie Valley', land use permits are issued for activities in each area with a settled land claim by the appropriate regional Land and Water Board (Gwich'in Land and Water Board, Sahtu Land and Water Board, Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board). For activities in areas without a settled land claim, or for activities affecting more than one of these areas, land use permits are issued by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. The land use permitting regime in the Mackenzie Valley applies to both public land and Aboriginal settlement lands.
With the exception of land use permitting and water licensing in the Mackenzie Valley, the requirement for permit, lease or licence applications is set out primarily in territorial legislation and land claim agreements. Developments related to non-renewable resource extraction (mining, oil and gas) require the acquisition of rights in order to carry out related activities in the NWT.
The term "Mackenzie Valley" is used to describe the entire region in the NWT south of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, with the exception of Wood Buffalo National Park. The southern NWT region in fact includes a portion of the Mackenzie River watershed that is in the NWT, in addition to portions of other watersheds draining into the Arctic Ocean or the Hudson Bay, such as the NWT's portion of the Coppermine River and Thelon River watershed.
For more information
- Land management in the NWT
- Industrial development in the NWT
Other focal points
- For indicators on actual footprints related to activities in the NWT, go to the LANDSCAPE CHANGES focal point.
- Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.
Ref. 1. Oil & Gas: Laws and Regulations.
Ref. 2. Mining Recorder’s Office.
Ref. 3. MacFarlane, K.E., S.P. Goff, and D. Irwin. 2007. 2007 Northwest Territories Mineral Exploration Overview. NWT Geoscience Office. 16 pp.
Ref. 4. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Current. Oil and Gas Devepment NWT Annual Reports, Northern Petroleum Resources.
Ref. 5. Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. Online Registry - Land and Water Boards of the Mackenzie Valley. MVLWB, GLWB, SLWB, WLWB.