A building at the contaminated Giant Mine site. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Aurora College hopes to develop two courses specializing in mine remediation as the Northwest Territories increasingly looks to cleanup work as a source of revenue and an area of expertise.
Giant Mine, the toxic former gold mine on Yellowknife’s doorstep, is one of the largest remediation projects in the world, now valued at almost $4.5 billion over more than a decade.
But the territory’s need for remediation and reclamation knowledge extends far beyond that, with hundreds of existing contaminated sites plus various diamond mines, oil and gas wells and other facilities certain to require remediation in the future.
In an email to Cabin Radio, Aurora College’s vice-president of education and training, Jeff O’Keefe, said the college had submitted a funding proposal to develop two programs.
One, the Northern Technician program, “will provide professional-development style training to technicians already working at the mines or wanting to transfer into the remediation sector,” O’Keefe said by email.
That program will “consider how to incorporate NWT-specific training needs, including using traditional knowledge in environmental management and decision-making; northern legislative and regulatory regimes such as land claims, self-government agreements and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act; climate change; and green energy.”
Students would be taught about project management, health and safety, and quality assurance.
A second program, Northern Remediation Monitoring, would help northerners to become semi-skilled monitoring technicians.
“The program will cover a suite of skills required in long-term monitoring and remediation work, including general monitoring methods as well as protocols for water, soil, air, and wildlife monitoring,” O’Keefe wrote.
“While this program is being developed and will be piloted with the intention of supporting mining remediation work, it is anticipated that it will be well-received by Indigenous government organizations and other organizations wanting to train their citizens for their own monitoring/Guardian programs.”
Work may begin this fall
Aurora College is two years away from its target date of a 2025 relaunch as a polytechnic university.
Remediation courses have long been discussed as a potential central component of the reinvented institution, given the abundance of cleanup and reclamation work in the North.
Much of the focus on Giant Mine’s remediation has fallen on how economic benefits are being handed out, with the independent Giant Mine Oversight Board frequently criticizing what it says are missed opportunities to involve more local residents. The federally led remediation team says finding people to do the jobs, however, is difficult.
Remediation “is a great economic opportunity for northerners,” the NWT government’s assistant deputy minister of mineral and petroleum resources, Menzie McEachern, told a conference in Inuvik last month.
Using Giant as an example, McEachern – noting the remediation’s multi-billion-dollar cost – told delegates: “Maybe from the Canadian taxpayer’s perspective, [that cost is] not an over-joyous thing. But from the northerner’s perspective, that money, we’d like to see as much of it spent in the North as possible.
“At some point in the future we expect Norman Wells to stop producing oil, and we’d like to see northerners do much of the remediation work associated with that project, too.”
McEachern said the territorial government had acquired funding from a federal program named the Strategic Partnerships Initiative, which Ottawa says “helps Indigenous communities participate in complex economic opportunities.”
He said part of the resulting work involves Aurora College’s new programs and part involves an economic development firm, Catalyste+, running a “pilot program to build Indigenous business capacity to participate in remediation projects.”
O’Keefe said the intention is to begin work on the college’s two programs – the likes of curriculum development, pilot program delivery and project evaluation, together expected to take five years – this fall.
“No decisions about how or where the programs will be delivered have been made. Those decisions will be made as part of the project,” he wrote.