Mining companies decry regulatory burden at N.W.T. committee meeting

The executive chair of mining development company NorZinc Limited says the regulatory process for mining and exploration work in the N.W.T. — particularly the need to fill out the same information in applications again and again — is unnecessarily burdensome, and a "business killer" for early-exploration projects.

Robin Bienenstock said her company, which is behind the proposed Prairie Creek critical minerals mine in the Dehcho region, doesn't have a lot of administrative resources to manage all the paperwork.

"You answer a set of questions and then a year-and-a-half later, you're answering the same set of questions again in a slightly different way," said Bienenstock. "That's extremely difficult."

Regulatory duplication, a slow approvals process, and an unclear delineation between early and advanced exploration were a few of the concerns raised by mining industry representatives on Tuesday at a meeting of the territory's standing committee on economic development and environment.

Gary Vivian, the chair of Aurora Geosciences, told the committee exploration is the "lifeblood" of mining, but early exploration projects have depleted since 2007 and the situation "continues to get worse through policy creep."

One issue, according to Vivian, is how early-stage projects are told to get water licences.

A type B water licence is needed when a company is using more than 100 cubic metres of water but less than 300 cubic metres of water per day, he said. A type A water licence is required for anything more than 300 cubic metres per day.

Vivian said it would be a "big win" if early exploration projects, with two or three drills and a 25-person camp, could move ahead without a water licence — which he said pushes the cost of exploration north of $200,000. Just a land-use permit, he said, would keep the regulatory cost for early exploration below $150,000.

"We live on probably the best craton on the world. Do we think we're done?" he said, referring to the impending closure of the N.W.T.'s three operational diamond mines. "That's the message we're telling everybody because nobody's exploring because it costs too much."

Bienenstock said there's "a lot" the N.W.T. can do to clarify the regulatory processes for early or advanced exploration work, and give exploration companies more certainty.

Diamond mining is the N.W.T.'s primary economic driver. Though there are projects at various stages of development across the territory, the N.W.T.'s most recent economic review said there are no projects on the horizon big enough to fill the economic gap from the diamond mines' closures.