Devolution of powers in the Northwest Territories

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Resource development and infrastructure improvements were top of mind when a new Northwest Territories (NWT) government was elected in the fall of 2011.  Since that time, the government has tried to realize these goals by reducing regulatory uncertainty and risk.  Recently the NWT government, together with the Federal government, undertook major steps to meet various objectives through the passage of a new law, entitled “The Northwest Territories Devolution Act”.

This law is historic in that it implements the devolution process for the Northwest Territories.  Devolution refers to the process where a major transfer of power is made from one level of government, in this case the Federal Government, to another, in this case the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). With devolution, the GNWT has gained more province-like powers for the management of public lands, water and resources. To learn more about the process of devolution, please click here.

Accompanying this historic new law is the enactment of other laws, which are particularly notable for those in the oil and gas industry, including:

  • The Oil and Gas Operations Act (SNWT2014,c14), which will be applicable for those operations using onshore oil and gas resources. A newly-created Office of the Regulator of Oil and Gas Operations will be responsible for the administration of this Act for onshore oil and gas resources, excluding those found in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. To read a backgrounder on this new regulator, please click here news.exec.gov.nt.ca/wp-content/uploads/Backgrounder-Oil-and-Gas-Regulator.pdf.
  • The Petroleum Resources Act (SNWT2014,c15), which will govern the lease of oil and gas rights on all the lands which may be used for petroleum development and are controlled by the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.
  •   The Waters Act (SNWT2014,c18) will govern how the GNWT regulates the use of water in the onshore areas of the NWT. To read a backgrounder on the new Waters Act, as prepared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, please click here.

The devolution of powers from the Federal government to the GNWT means that the territorial government will now enjoy much of the same powers that provinces do when regulating natural resource development and environmental stewardship.  For industry, especially those involved in oil and gas, devolution should mean a simpler legal framework where regulatory uncertainty and risk is reduced.