Sharing Responsibility for Managing Land and Resources

Integrated Management of Land and Resources

Integrated management is one way of describing the interconnected laws, agreements, and rules governing lands, waters, and resource management in the NWT.

These include Aboriginal and Treaty rights; federal legislation; land, water, and impact review boards; Land Claims, Land Use Plans, Self-Government, and Other Agreements; and existing territorial laws.

In the case of oil and gas, it also means there are significant areas which still remain under federal administration.

The Context of the NWT’s Oil and Gas Laws

Who is in Charge of What?

As with other provinces and territories, the GNWT, the Government of Canada, and Indigenous governments all play a part in governing the NWT’s lands and natural resources.

Under this arrangement, for some activities, lands, water, and natural resources are governed by the GNWT, while other activities are governed by the Government of Canada and Indigenous governments. The GNWT can only make laws that govern those activities on NWT lands, and for those natural resources for which it is responsible.

The federal government holds jurisdiction on all offshore natural resources, including the Beaufort Sea. Since Devolution in 2014, the GNWT has had a role to play in governing onshore — meaning not in the ocean — lands and natural resources. There are some exceptions. For example, the Norman Wells oil field is a federally-governed site.

There are also various land claim and other agreements with Indigenous governments which grant these governments ownership over natural resources.

Oil and Gas Laws

The Petroleum Resources Act and the Oil and Gas Operations Act are the two main pieces of legislation governing oil and gas exploration, production, and management in onshore NWT.

These Acts give some responsibilities to the GNWT — generally the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment — and some to Regulators.

There are two Regulators under the Petroleum Resources Act and the Oil and Gas Operations Act.

The Minister of Justice (the GNWT Regulator) is the Regulator currently responsible for the onshore NWT, with the exception of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and federal lands such as the Norman Wells Proven Area.

The Office of the Regulator of Oil and Gas Operations (OROGO) provides expert analysis and advice and operational support to the GNWT Regulator. OROGO’s responsibilities include application reviews, regulation of seismic and drilling operations, and emergency response and investigation.

The National Energy Board (NEB) is the Regulator responsible for regulating oil and gas activities in the onshore portion of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region under the Petroleum Resources Act and the Oil and Gas Operations Act. The NEB is also responsible for the offshore NWT and federal lands such as the Norman Wells Proven Area under the federal Canada Petroleum Resources Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act.

OROGO has produced a document entitled “Regulation of Oil and Gas Activity in the Northwest Territories” that shows the area that each Regulator is responsible for.

Petroleum Resources Act

The Petroleum Resources Act governs how the GNWT acts as the administrator  of oil and gas resources that are under NWT land in order to ensure those resources benefit all the people of the NWT. The main purpose of the Petroleum Resources Act is to set the rules on how a company can get the interests to explore for and produce oil and gas in those lands where the GNWT owns the resources. An interest applies to a particular area of land. Each type of interest gives different rights to the company.

Oil and Gas Operations Act

The Oil and Gas Operations Act regulates the activities that take place when companies explore for and produce oil and gas. The purpose of the Act is to promote safety, environmental protection, conservation of oil and gas resources, joint production arrangements, and economically efficient infrastructure.

The Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment’s main role under the Oil and Gas Operations Act is to approve benefits plans for NWT residents. It is important to note, these benefit plans are different from benefit agreements signed by companies and Indigenous governments and organizations.

The Regulator approves plans for safely and sustainably drilling wells and building production facilities; monitors operations to make sure that everything is going according to filed plans; and oversees the process of decommissioning and abandoning oil and gas wells.

The Regulatory Framework

To understand these proposed changes to the NWT’s petroleum laws, and the context in which they are being introduced, it is important to have an idea of the regulatory framework of the NWT.

That’s because the NWT does things a bit differently than other places in Canada — and even around the world.

One territory, two systems

There are two regulatory regimes in the NWT. One was established under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement — the land claim agreement signed between the Inuvialuit peoples and the Government of Canada in 1984.

The other came about as part of the Gwich’in, Sahtu and Tłı̨chǫ final agreements, and is referenced in federal legislation through the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

In a broad sense, these agreements give the organizations in-charge of these settlement regions authorities to manage land and natural resources in their best interests. The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act also makes sure responsible practices are followed in non-settled areas in the NWT.

In contrast to the provinces, the regulatory regimes in the NWT came about as a direct result of comprehensive land claim agreements, and are based on the principles of integration, coordination, and co-management. Indigenous rights are integrated into the regime.

Below is a summary of important measures already in place under these regulatory regimes, and through other laws, rules, and agreements governing land and natural resource management in the Northwest Territories.

Aboriginal and Treaty Rights

The amendments to the Petroleum Resources Act and the Oil and Gas Operations Act are designed to respect and recognize Aboriginal and Treaty Rights for Indigenous groups of the Northwest Territories.

Canada’s Constitution requires Aboriginal and Treaty rights to be respected in legislation.

Regional Land and Water Boards and Impact Review Boards

These boards are in place across the Northwest Territories were established under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the Gwich’in, Sahtu and Tłı̨chǫ land claim agreements, and through the federal Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and other legislation.

Their main purposes are to regulate the use of land and water and, if required, conduct Environmental Assessments and reviews of large or complex projects.

Today, these include:

  • Inuvialuit Water Board
  • Inuvialuit Land Administration
  • Inuvialuit Environmental Impact Review Board
  • Gwich’in Land and Water Board
  • Sahtu Land and Water Board
  • Wek’èezhìi Land and Water Board
  • Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board
  • Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board

These boards cover land and water management under settled agreements, and the Mackenzie Valley boards cover regions of the Northwest Territories where the Dehcho First Nations, Akaitcho First Nations, Acho Dene Koe First Nation, and the NWT Métis Nation continue to negotiate their rights and interests.

In practice, these bodies already regulate a lot of the social and environmental aspects of petroleum projects, including (but not limited to):

  • Financial securities for cleanup
  • Land use
  • Cleanup planning
  • Project planning
  • Environmental impact mitigation for industrial and infrastructure projects
  • Wildlife concerns related to projects
  • Water use
  • Aboriginal Consultation requirements 

Land Claim Agreements, Land Use Plans, Self- Government Agreements, and Other Agreements

Indigenous land claims and other natural resource management agreements play a big part in how land is administered in the Northwest Territories. There are currently several settled agreements and others currently under negotiation.

Once agreements are reached, they generally set out a plan for land use within the settled claim areas — called a Land Use Plan.

These plans set out how the land and natural resources will be used, conserved, or developed in the interests of those who settled the claim.

Existing laws

Other departments in the GNWT and the federal government administer different laws covering various aspects of land and natural resource management. Here are some relevant examples.


Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act

This legislation and its regulations governs most of the environmental aspects of resource development in the Mackenzie Valley. More information on how this legislation regulates natural resource activity in the NWT can be found here. 

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

This Act defines when a federal-level Environmental Assessment would apply to a project. It is rarely required in the NWT, given that the MVRMA covers most, though not all, of the NWT.

Federal Oil and Gas Laws

All lands and waters still under federal control in the NWT — including all offshore areas in the Beaufort Sea and the Norman Wells Proven Area are still subject to federal laws and administration.

This would include:

  • Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act
  • Canada Petroleum Resources Act

These would be subject to the regulatory authority and decisions of the federal National Energy Board.

The GNWT, federal government and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation have, as part of the Devolution Agreement , a mechanism to cooperatively manage resources that straddle their jurisdictions..



With authorities given to it by federal legislation, the Department of Lands holds most financial securities for reclamation and remediation work.

Financial securities are required deposits provided by the company ahead of time to cover clean- up costs in case the company goes out-of-business. If an owner/operator abandons a site or goes bankrupt, cleaning up the site may become the responsibility of the government that administers the land.

The government would use any securities to clean up the site — ensuring that the owner/operator pays for any damage done at the site.

The amount of financial security held is determined by the land and water boards of the Northwest Territories.

Land Use Plans

The Department of Lands supports land use planning to guide decision-making about what activities should take place on public lands in the Northwest Territories. Land use planning helps create certainty where, when and how development can take place.

Surface Rights

These are rights held by property owners. The GNWT holds surface rights on public lands through the Department of Lands even if petroleum exploration is occurring below the ground.

In the mining sector for example, before a mine is built, surface rights in the form of a Surface Lease need to be granted in addition to all other licences and permits. Otherwise, a mine cannot be built and operated.

If there are any disputes between people, companies, or organizations on surface rights, an independent Surface Rights Board has the power to resolve the dispute.



Through the Waters Act, ENR is responsible for holding onto financial securities from companies whose projects might affect water in the NWT.


Through the Environmental Protection Act, Wildlife Act, Waters Act, and other pieces of legislation, much of the protection of land, water, and wildlife — including rules for industrial operations — are governed by this department. Renewable Resource Boards, the Wildlife Management Advisory Council, and the Inuvialuit Game Council also play significant roles in wildlife management.

Cumulative Impacts Monitoring

Through responsibilities delegated under federal legislation, the department looks at natural resource management, development, and conservation holistically and monitors its effects on the territory.

Environmental Monitoring Agreements

Environmental Monitoring Agreements are generally negotiated between companies and governments or Indigenous organizations to oversee environmental protection measures while a natural resource project is underway.

Two examples today include:

  • The operators of both Diavik and Ekati Diamond Mines negotiated Environmental Agreements with territorial, federal, and Indigenous governments which established public boards to monitor environmental impacts from the projects.
  • De Beers negotiated a unique agreement with Indigenous governments for the Gahcho Kué mine and formed Ni Hadi Xa — an independent monitoring agency.

How Does it Fit?

The proposed amendments to the Petroleum Resources Act and the Oil and Gas Operations Act do not suggest changing or replacing any of the requirements under these rules or agreements.

The legislative initiative was designed to give them space and respect their role in the NWT’s unique system of managing land, water, and natural resources.

The legislative initiative also does not propose the GNWT take control over any lands currently under federal administration.