David Ramsay – Opening Remarks at the 42nd Annual Geoscience Forum

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

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Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to Yellowknife and to the 42nd annual Geoscience Forum. I want to thank the Dettah drummers for sharing with us their traditional songs, a welcome start to a conference that always delivers excellent speakers, presentations and more.

The Geoscience Forum takes months of careful planning and coordination that is made possible through the ongoing efforts and hard work of the staff at the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, and numerous  volunteers behind the scenes.

I want to thank everyone involved in organizing the largest annual conference North of 60, which continues to grow. Having the conference exhibitors and tradeshow in a new, expansive venue at the Yellowknife Multiplex is a welcome addition and I hope you will all take some time to visit and check out the exhibitors.   

At last year’s Forum, I mentioned the important changes Devolution was going to bring to our territory. April 1, 2014 was a landmark date for our government and the people of the Northwest Territories as we took over administrative responsibility for public lands, water and mineral and petroleum resources in the territory.

Resource revenues will now flow directly to our government, and we now have the necessary tools and authorities to responsibly develop the territory’s significant natural resource potential, promote investment and economic development, and manage the land and environment sustainably– all according to Northern needs and priorities.

This is an exciting time in our political evolution, and an opportune time to be here at the Geoscience Forum to discuss advancements in geoscience research and how we are using innovation and existing materials to best prepare for future mineral and petroleum exploration development here in the NWT.

Studying permafrost, glacial deposits, core samples, or mapping and collecting geotechnical data may not sound as glamorous as polishing a rough diamond or pouring a gold brick, but as many of you in this room know, it is geoscience information and technology that puts us squarely on the path towards promising exploration and resource development projects.

Today I am pleased to announce that Government of the Northwest Territories plans to build a Geological Materials Storage Facility here in Yellowknife. This purpose-built facility will house the territory’s substantial geological collections, which includes thousands of boxes of drill core donated by industry, tens of thousands of geological samples, and thousands of maps and reports with valuable information about historic mining properties and advanced mineral exploration projects in the NWT. This collection has been compiled over many decades and was inherited by the GNWT through Devolution.

The collection has tremendous purpose and value, both financially and in terms of the knowledge it contributes to exploration, mining, and reclamation projects – now and in the future.

I should note that the new storage facility here will complement an existing one in Calgary that houses samples from petroleum exploration wells drilled in the NWT. The materials and samples in these collections are a key component in helping to attract investment to the NWT.

As new methods and models are developed, these collections will be accessed for new research and testing by a variety of clients – from industry and prospectors to researchers and governments.

A great example outlining the value of the core storage library is the re-use of existing drill core, which has been undertaken by several exploration companies in the recent past, and for some companies has resulted in millions of dollars of exploration savings.

In addition to establishing the new core storage library, this month we announced a new project that will support our ongoing efforts to locate areas with high mineral potential and learn more about permafrost conditions in the Slave Geological Province. This project, which is being led by the NWT Geoscience Office, received substantial support from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency – through its Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development Program. The two-year study is also being supported by the GNWT, industry and university partners.

This work will help to stimulate the next round of diamond and metals exploration in this area. And as we all know from the living and working in this territory, understanding permafrost and how it changes over time is important for infrastructure planning, understanding landscape change, reclaiming mines, and a number of other reasons. I want to also highlight the fact that this permafrost study will establish the territory as a world leader in this area.

We look forward to the results of the study and the benefits it will bring to the NWT, perhaps leading to the next great diamond rush. Mineral exploration and development has been a pillar of the NWT economy for more than 80 years. In 2013 alone, the industry contributed $1.67 billion in production value, and diamonds currently account for over 90 per cent of the total estimated value of both mineral and non-mineral production.

Ensuring the continuing health of mining sector is important if we want to grow the NWT economy. To that end, the Government of the Northwest Territories recently released the Mineral Development Strategy (MDS) Implementation Plan, which is certainly timely with renewed interest in diamonds and increased exploration activity in the NWT. In addition, since Devolution on April 1, 2014, the NWT Mining Recorder’s Office has received over 300 new mineral claim applications.

The Implementation Plan puts the Mineral Development Strategy into action. With specific objectives and timelines, we will work to grow a sustainable mining sector, improve geoscience research and information, encourage responsible mineral development and exploration, enhance Aboriginal capacity, and create a successful Mining Incentive Program. We are well on our way with the Mining Incentive Program, which was launched in June 2014. The program, which helps to off-set some of the financial risks associated with grassroots mineral exploration, was oversubscribed by 200 per cent in its first year.

Energy is another hot topic of discussion around the globe, with worldwide energy demands anticipated to rise by 40 per cent in the next 15 years. A reliable supply of energy resources is key to meeting the expected demand.

Our territory has vast potential in natural gas and oil, with about 16.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.2 billion barrels of oil already discovered, which is a small portion of the NWT’s estimated onshore and offshore potential.

Some of that potential is locked up in shale oil and shale gas deposits that we are only beginning to fully comprehend the size of. And of course in the future we may also be fully considering our gas hydrate potential that has shown some promise from initial testing and research.

The oil and gas potential is remarkable, and harnessing that potential to meet future demands requires careful and long-range planning. To map our energy future, we are initiating the development of an NWT Oil and Gas Strategy. This Strategy will identify the actions that are necessary to stimulate sustainable development, production and safe transportation of the territory’s oil and gas resources.

The GNWT is also developing new hydraulic fracturing regulations to complement the integrated and well-developed regulatory and environmental protection systems in the territory. These regulations will build on the National Energy Board’s (NEB) Hydraulic Fracturing Filing Requirements and apply to applications for exploration activities using hydraulic fracturing in the onshore of the NWT.  We will work with Aboriginal governments, residents, industry and other stakeholders to develop regulations that balance our commitment to protect our land and water, while creating opportunities for the NWT.

We are also embarking on the first assessment of unconventional petroleum resources in the NWT to determine the unconventional oil and gas reserves of the Canol Shale Formation in the Central Mackenzie Valley. And in the Liard Basin to the south, similar work is happening in conjunction with the Yukon and British Columbia governments, as well as the NEB.

The core storage library, geological advancements and developments in the mining and petroleum sectors are all part of this Government’s vision to build a strong and prosperous territory that provides opportunities and benefits to all communities and regions.

Investments in research and infrastructure will help us develop our resources, but we cannot do this alone. We will continue to work together and strengthen our relationships with industry, Aboriginal governments and non-government agencies to effectively and responsibly manage our land, environment and resources.

The Geoscience Forum attracts passionate and informed presenters and delegates. It is conferences such as these that enable us to come together to share our strategies and ideas so we can reach our full potential, attract people, projects and investment to the NWT.

Today is also about celebrating individuals who will soon be recognized for their achievements, innovation and great contributions in their respective fields, one of whom is a long-time NWT resident being honoured with a national award. Congratulations to the all the award recipients.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I hope you enjoy the numerous presentations and technical sessions throughout the Forum and the new exhibitor space at the Multiplex Arena. I also hope to see you all later this evening at the first-ever NWT Night, featuring a great line-up of speakers and entertainers, including a lively performance by Lee Mandeville