Mine Site Reclamation Policy for the Northwest Territories

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The Mine Site Reclamation Policy for the Northwest Territories was released by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development on July 29, 2002. The policy is designed to provide a resource management tool to ensure that mining operations in the Northwest Territories do not leave a legacy of environmental and human health hazards and a financial burden on the Canadian taxpayer. The Department considers this policy an important component in developing a strong resource management base in the Northwest Territories. It will provide certainty and clarity concerning the government's expectations on mine site reclamation. The policy was developed after extensive consultations with Aboriginal organizations, industry, environmental non-government organizations, Institutions of Public Government and the Government of the Northwest Territories.

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Message from the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Published under the authority of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Ottawa, 2002

Catalogue No. R2-208/2002-2E

© Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada

Cette publication peut aussi être obtenue en français sous le titre : Politiques de remise en état des sites miniers des Territoires du Nord-Ouest

Cover photo of mine site reclamation grass plots courtesy of BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc.

Mine Site Reclamation Policy for the Northwest Territories

A policy for the protection of the environment and the disposition of liability relating to mine closures in the Northwest Territories.

I am pleased to present the Mine Site Reclamation Policy for the Northwest Territories. This policy reflects the Government of Canada's desire to ensure a strong resource management base in the Northwest Territories while reducing the impacts to the environment and human health.

The development of this policy has included a broad-based consultation process involving representatives from Aboriginal organizations, industry, stakeholders, Northern boards and the territorial governments.

Sustainable resource development is essential to the North. Our objective is to strengthen federal standards for both the protection of the environment and the reclamation of mine sites. Through this policy we are establishing a clear standard and are providing clarity and certainty for industry and other stakeholders which will lead to sustainable and responsible development in the North.

I would like to acknowledge and thank all those who have contributed to the development of this policy. We must continue to work together to create an industry that is sustainable, profitable and environmentally responsible.


Honourable Robert D. Nault
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development


For more than a hundred years, mines have been operating in Canada's North, providing important economic benefits, not only for northerners, but to all Canadians. Mining in the North has been good for Canada. A rough estimate of the cumulative value of metal and mineral production for the three territories since 1977 is over $18 billion.

However, some mining operations closed without adequately addressing their clean-up and reclamation responsibilities, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars of clean-up costs to the federal government. While this represents a relatively small percentage of the economic benefit, in absolute terms it still amounts to a substantial burden on the government's accounts.

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND ) continues to look for opportunities to improve the way it carries out its resource management responsibilities. DIAND considers the development of the Mine Site Reclamation Policy for the Northwest Territories an important new step in the development of a comprehensive mineral resource management component of the Department's Sustainable Development Strategy.

The public is becoming more concerned about the growing number of insolvencies and abandoned mining properties, which are leaving significant environmental liabilities. This increased consciousness has led to outward expressions of concern and questioning of support for mining in the North.

DIAND is concerned with the public's eroding confidence in northern mining. It also recognizes the desire to build a strong resource management base in the Northwest Territories. Both complement DIAND 's thinking and its ongoing search for opportunities to improve the way resource management responsibilities are carried out across Canada's three northern territories.

The development of this Policy was not the only option available. Government continues to look at various legislative and regulatory initiatives to support the principles set out in this Policy. However, legislative and regulatory changes take a relatively long time to accomplish, and it is important to deal with this issue in the context of current legislation, from the perspective of operating mines preparing to close in the next few years and new mines expected to open shortly.

It is critical to have resource management tools in place in the Northwest Territories as soon as possible. Industry, investors, environmental interests and Aboriginal communities all share the desire for certainty, consistency and clarity.

The Mine Site Reclamation Policy for the Northwest Territories serves four main objectives.

DIAND also recognizes that many of the provisions incorporated within this Policy are governmental "principles" that provide general guidance and direction. They work in harmony with the existing regulatory framework and the regulators charged with their application. It is not the intent of this Policy to supplant or diminish these existing regulatory authorities or the organizations that have been created to carry them out.

DIAND has been guided by The Minerals and Metals Policy of the Government of Canada, wherein specific reference is made to the challenges associated with mine site reclamation and the federal government's direct responsibilities in the three territories.

It should also be noted that DIAND is developing another complementary policy that relates to orphaned or abandoned sites, including mines. It is called the Policy on the Management of Contaminated Sites in Canada's North. This proposed policy is part of DIAND 's commitment to reduce or eliminate the human health and safety dangers posed by contaminated sites, including abandoned mines.

In addition to legislation governing conventional mining, the mining of uranium and other related hazardous minerals is regulated by specific legislation (e.g., The Nuclear Safety and Control Act).

This Policy is intended to be consistent with the legislative, regulatory and policy instruments in effect in the Northwest Territories.

The Policy offers guidance for the planning and implementation of mine site reclamation in the Northwest Territories. To a large degree, the principles outlined in this Policy have already been adopted and adhered to by the federal government and industry, within the existing regulatory framework in the Northwest Territories. This Policy codifies, clarifies and provides more certainty. It gives a template for the development and enhancement of operational procedures and processes required to ensure that objectives are met.

Enforcement of regulatory provisions related to mine site reclamation will continue to be undertaken through the existing regulatory regime. The Territorial Lands Act and its regulations, the Northwest Territories Waters Act and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act will be the primary vehicles used, although other pieces of federal and territorial legislation are also in play (e.g., Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act).

The environmental assessment processes will continue to identify and consider the environmental, social, cultural and economic effects of a mining project and its reclamation, and ensure the potentially affected public participates during the monitoring and reporting of mine site reclamation.

The principles and objectives laid out in this Policy will guide DIAND 's decision-making powers in matters where DIAND has authority and will shape DIAND 's position as an intervener in regulatory processes carried out by resource management boards.

DIAND will continue to be guided by other federal policies concerning regulatory efficiency and environmental protection. Given the number of regulatory authorities emerging in the North, it is critical that this Policy be integrated with the existing regulatory and policy framework.


Given the multi-jurisdictional landscape in the North, application of this Policy depends on the circumstances. It will provide internal guidance to DIAND staff in the drafting of terms and conditions of regulatory instruments over which the Department retains jurisdiction and in the preparation of interventions to the resource management boards within the territory. The Policy will also inform the resource management boards of the Minister's expectations in terms of their work and what the Minister will be looking for in the regulatory instruments submitted for the Minister's approval. Finally, it tells industry what is expected in its project designs (as it relates to reclamation planning) and what industry can expect from regulatory decision makers, thereby "fixing the goal posts" and thus reducing ad hoc, case-by-case interpretation.

This Policy applies to new and existing mines, whether operating or not, with clearly identified owners/operators. It does not cover orphaned or abandoned sites, which will fall under the proposed Policy on the Management of Contaminated Sites in Canada's North.

The Policy applies only to developed mines and to those mining-related activities that take place on mine sites. It does not apply to activities undertaken during the prospecting, exploration or advanced exploration stages of the development of a mineral property.

This Policy is virtually identical to the Mine Site Reclamation Policy for Nunavut and is intended to cover mining properties which might straddle the Northwest Territories-Nunavut border. Yukon mining activities are not managed under the Territorial Lands Act/Canada Mining Regulations, and a modified policy vehicle is being developed which is consistent with Yukon's legislative and regulatory framework. It is intended that it will complement its Northwest Territories and Nunavut counterparts, to create a consistent pan-Northern policy framework.

Principles for Mine Site Reclamation

The following principles respecting mine site reclamation should provide proponents, boards and government departments with certainty, clarity and consistency regarding expectations, from project design to operations and post-closure.

1. General

2. Reclamation Planning

3. Post-Closure Responsibilities

4. Financial Security

5. Regulatory Authorities

Implementation Considerations

The following implementation considerations provide an explanatory framework and add detail to the principles set out above.

Mine Closure and Reclamation Plans All proposals for a new mine must include a mine closure and reclamation plan. This is critical to the long-term future and environmental legacy of the development site. For greater efficiency, a plan should integrate the requirements associated with leasing surface rights and water licensing.

Required Standard of Reclamation Site-specific criteria should be developed by regulators for assessing the adequacy of plans and their implementation, based on the 1994 Whitehorse Mining Initiative principle of "returning mine sites and affected areas to viable and, wherever practicable, self-sustaining ecosystems that are compatible with a healthy environment and with human activities," including applicable archiving of reports, records, etc.

Where regulatory boards with jurisdiction for land and water management have developed specific guidelines and standards of environmental rehabilitation, these will be adopted for use in the applicable region.

Elements of Mine Closure and Reclamation Plans Planning for closure, before development occurs, provides the opportunity to develop a flexible and cost-effective design, which helps ensure mine reclamation takes place and the responsibility for costs is borne by industry. It can be expected that techniques and methodology for mine site reclamation will continue to evolve with changes to our scientific understanding and technology.

Therefore, approaches to mine site reclamation need to remain dynamic, and evolving "best practices" should be an integral component of reclamation planning.

Best practices for both regulatory and voluntary/nonregulatory efforts include policies, programs, technologies, reclamation research and other measures that have been found to be cost effective and environmentally appropriate. Best practices encompass and build on measures embodied within local, national and international initiatives.

A Plan should fully address the following.

The plan should describe detailed measures for the reclamation, closure and decommissioning of the mine including but not necessarily limited to:

Progress Reporting on Reclamation Status reports on the progress of mine site reclamation work should be submitted to the relevant regulatory authority periodically. Since reporting on progressive reclamation is directly related to amendments to the financial security, the timing and content of the reports should match the provisions found in each plan relating to amendments to the financial security (see Financial Security).

Status reports need not be elaborate documents, but should include basic details, such as the reclamation work performed, amount of materials moved, dollars spent and a general account of areas yet to be reclaimed.

Mine Closure and Reclamation Plan Revisions (Updates) When revisions to mining plans require significant changes in reclamation requirements, an amendment to the plan will be required, in addition to the above described progress report. In many cases, these changes will require an environmental screening, and amendments to licences and permits through the regulatory process.

A significant component of any revision will be the evaluation of the degree to which reclamation costs will vary as a result of changes to the mining plan and the implications for the amount of financial assurance already in palce.

Financial Security A key element of the Plan is the relationship between the closure and reclamation obligations, and the financial security provided to ensure the liability for reclamation remains with the mining company. There are a number of issues relating to financial security which must be considered as part of this policy.

1. Forms of Security Financial security for mine site reclamation for new mines must be readily convertible to cash. Such security must have the following basic criteria:

2. Co-ordination Among Regulatory Agencies Regulatory authority to require financial assurance for mine site reclamation is not contained in a single statute. On Crown-owned lands in the Mackenzie Valley, DIAND has jurisdiction with respect to land leases and related security issues. The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board has the jurisdiction to determine the amount of security in water licences and land-use permits, while the Minister of DIAND has the power to determine the form of security provided under these instruments.

Since financial security has become a multi-jurisdictional issue, co-ordination is an important consideration. To ensure that financial security is most efficiently and effectively applied, DIAND will facilitate discussions between the various regulatory bodies to promote the co-ordination of financial security obligations. This will include:

3. Progressive Reclamation Ongoing reclamation throughout the life of the mine is preferable from both the environmental and financial liability perspectives. The financial security of a mining project will be adjusted to reflect progressive reclamation on the following basis:

Post-Closure Reclamation and Final Decommissioning Near the end of production when closure is anticipated, the most recent approved plan will be the basis for final decommissioning. As reclamation work is successfully completed and environmental liability is reduced, the amount of financial assurance required will be proportionately reduced and the surplus refunded.

Where applicable, in addition to the physical aspects of closure, pertinent records should be collected, prepared and archived. These could include a survey of any underground workings, drill cores and broader environmental data and reports.

Once the reclamation work required by the plan is deemed completed, the site will be allowed to stabilize. During this time, monitoring will be conducted by the company and verified by DIAND and other agencies as appropriate, with respect to the effectiveness of the mitigative measures, the accuracy of the environmental assessment and any unforeseen environmental impacts. The duration of the required monitoring phase will be reviewed and confirmed at the time of closure and will depend on the risks associated with the potential impacts on the environment.

During this period, the mining company will continue to be responsible for the site, including remediation of any additional environmental complications which develop. If warranted by site conditions, the monitoring period may be extended to ensure remedial measures are met.

Some mines are anticipated to require long-term care and maintenance after closure.

Examples include sites where:

The Minister may hold back an appropriate amount of financial assurance to cover future requirements for the site. In such cases, the mining company will be responsible for the care and maintenance of the site, but will also maintain a claim to any remaining financial assurance.

When the Minister is satisfied the operator has met the requirements for decommissioning under the relevant legislation and that the objectives of the plan have been fully met, the Minister will provide the mining company with a written acknowledgement to that effect.

Transition Rules for Existing Mines

This Policy covers existing mining operations. However, it is recognized that the status of reclamation planning and the degree of financial assurance in effect varies considerably from mine to mine. Therefore, the application of certain aspects of this Policy will have to take into account the specific situation and issues of individual mines on a case-by-case basis.

For existing operations, the financial security provided to the Minister for reclamation obligations should be increased in increments to 100 per cent coverage as soon as possible, but not later than the forecast life of the mine. Only when a mine operator could conclusively demonstrate that it was financially incapable of doing so, and the Minister was satisfied that it was in the public's best interests, would the Minister consider options relating to the form, amount or schedule for the provision of financial security.

All reclamation liabilities created by future operations would be subject to the same requirement to provide full security as new mines.


The issue of what happens when the operators of existing mines become insolvent poses a distinct and unique challenge to both the regulatory system and the application of this Policy. When a mine operator seeks court protection from creditors under either the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act or the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the company does so with the intent to negotiate with its creditors a financial restructuring that will allow the company to emerge from court protection as a viable entity. When this process is successful, the mine operator remains liable for the closure and reclamation of the mine.

However, when this process is not successful, the creditors of the company will frequently have the court appoint a receiver or Interim Receiver under the provisions of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to sell the assets of the company. The negotiations with prospective purchasers of a mine within insolvency proceedings will frequently involve DIAND as the representative of the Crown, as a creditor of the insolvent operator and as an environmental regulator. While DIAND will be as co-operative as possible in trying to facilitate such a sale, the Crown will not compromise or assume environmental liability to facilitate a sale of a mine for the benefit of creditors.

When a property is abandoned by a receiver, Interim Receiver, or Trustee in bankruptcy, DIAND will take any measures necessary to safeguard human health and safety and the environment using the authority of the Minister under the Northwest Territories Waters Act. Under this Act, the costs of such measures will be recovered from the financial security provided by the operator. Should these costs exceed the value of the security provided by the operator, the excess becomes a debt due to the Crown which, under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act is secured by a first charge over the property. If the property is subsequently sold, the Crown intends to recover any debts due to the Crown from the proceeds of the sale of the property.

When a mine operator is insolvent and a mine is abandoned by a receiver, Interim Receiver or Trustee in bankruptcy, because the unsecured environmental liabilities exceed the economic value of the mine, which means the property cannot be sold in a conventional sale, DIAND would consider entering into a transaction with a purchaser for the mine on the following basis:

Whether or not DIAND entered into such a transaction would depend on the extent of the benefits or potential benefits to the Crown in reducing the environmental impacts and ultimate cost to Canadian taxpayers of environmental remediation at the mine site.

Policy Review

The political and legislative environment in the North is in a period of unprecedented change. If this Policy is to keep pace with the shifting operational environment, and political, legislative and technological developments, it must be a living document or it will lose its currency and effectiveness.

To this end, the Department will undertake to review this Policy periodically.

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