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Choose your mining spot

Thandie Vela
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 1, 2011


So, you want to mine in the North.

If industry accounts of endless red tape are to be believed, you might want to pack your patience with your drilling tools before going exploring in the Northwest Territories.

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News/North is taking readers through a stage-by-stage series on navigating the proper channels to establish a mining project in the Northwest Territories. By breaking the process down in steps, we aim to gain insight into what mineral exploration and development companies often describe as the "red tape" that deters some from investing in the NWT, and find out whether it really is easier to pursue mining projects in the single land claim territory of Nunavut.

Yet geologically, there is no question that you are in the right place.

"The NWT has tremendous value in resource potential," Gary Vivian, an Aurora Geociences Ltd. geologist, said. Vivian has more than 30 years of mineral exploration experience in the North.

Hard rock minerals - including rare earths, lead, gold, zinc, copper and nickel - are in abundance here, he said.

History has shown great returns on the land, including the Giant gold mine, Con mine, and Tundra, evidence of the potential riches that can be unearthed.

And it's no wonder exploration companies look at the territory with dollar signs in their eyes when you add the fact that the NWT and Nunavut are relatively unexplored.

"Not a lot of exploration has gone on here," Vivian said.

"If you look at an area like Timmins, Ont., there's so many drill holes in the ground, it's like a pin cushion.

"If you look at the relative abundance of drilling that's been done here compared to somewhere in Ontario or Manitoba or Saskatchewan, it's probably a few percentile of what the full package could be."

So how do you get started?

Your first step is finding an area that might have resource potential.

For this, you will need a geoscientist, someone who has studied rock formations and can tell by the formations which areas have the best possibility of mineral occurrence.

For example, identifying a greenstone belt would indicate probability of finding sulphides or gold, Vivian said.

While a geologist can provide an opinion through evaluation of the area, it's important to keep in mind that the odds of fully developing a mine are against you.

NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines executive director Tom Hoefer said only one out of every 1,000 exploration projects started becomes a mine.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada offers an online Citizen's Guide to Mining in the NWT, which states the body "supports the development of non-renewable resources in the Northwest Territories."

Akaitcho First Nations adviser Stephen Ellis says there is "general dissatisfaction" among aboriginal communities with the federal regulations that companies must follow to mine in the territory, and the Akaitcho have been "very firm" on protecting their interests beyond those regulations.

Vivian says the regulatory process and First Nations issues have made the territory an increasingly difficult place to work in.

"There are so many loopholes that have been thrown in the way of doing work here I can tell you that the basic understanding for the junior mining field in Canada is that the NWT is just not open for business," Vivian said, adding the first step, identifying a place of interest, is the only easy part.

"I think when you get to how to get work done, that's where you're going to hear a lot of the hair up on the back of the neck stories of 'it's just not an easy place to operate.'"

Next step: Identifying an area and staking it: Meet the mining recorders office

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