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Meeting stringent environmental protection requirements before mining is allowed to begin is only half the story. Throughout the whole life of the mine, its operations will be continuously monitored to ensure that emissions of waste materials are kept within safe limits. And when the mining operation ceases, the mine must ensure it leaves behind a properly reclaimed site which will not become an environmental hazard in the future. In the NWT, mining comes under the Mackenzie Valley Resources Management Act. In Nunavut, the Nunavut Waters Act applies.

Through the permitting process, all interested parties are provided the opportunity to participate.

Kimberley Balsillie, an environment officer at De Beers/Mountain Province Gahcho Kué Mine, as part of monitoring, collects a water sample. Photo: De Beers

A detailed evaluation of projected environmental effects must be carried out and documented for submission to the Mackenzie Valley Land & Water Board, Nunavut Water Board, or one of the regional boards established under aboriginal claims. In addition, baseline studies to document, amongst other things, fisheries resources, wildlife, water quality, vegetation and stream and lake sediment, are mandatory. These will help identify any significant wildlife or fisheries resources, and rare, threatened or endangered plants or animals that could be affected by mine development.

The new mining projects in the NWT and Nunavut represent a new generation of environmental philosophy and management. The effort centres on minimizing the impact of mining and on direct community involvement in environmental stewardship through traditional knowledge and community oversight. The depth of the detail that goes into the planning before permits and approvals are granted is evident in documents such as the environmental impact reports that must be prepared and then defended to the public. But it is at the mines themselves where the thinking and philosophy become most tangible.

New mines have set world-class standards in environmental policy and innovative technology. From wildlife management to water quality to energy conservation, these mines are breaking new ground and setting the standard against which all northern mining projects will be measured.