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GNWT, feds poised to sell Mactung, Cantung

Just four years after its purchase of the Mactung mineral deposit, the GNWT is prepared to sell its mineral rights jointly with the federal government, which took over the Cantung mine in 2015.

After North American Tungsten Ltd. (NATCL) went bankrupt, the GNWT bought Mactung for $2.5-million in hopes of selling again when tungsten prices rebounded.

NATCL posted the Mactung deposit and exploration site as a security on the Cantung mine, 160 km south.

The GNWT purchased the mineral deposit as a condition of the federal assumption of the Cantung Mine site. The federal government is responsible for mines opened before devolution.

The Cantung mine straddles the border of the NWT and Yukon and is 300 km northeast from Watson Lake, Yukon.

photo via Trevor-MacInnis Wikimedia Commons
The territorial and federal governments took over Cantung mine and the Mactung mineral deposit in 2015 after North American Tungsten went under creditor protection, owing at least $75-million to more than 200 creditors.

Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) Minister Wally Schumann told News/North the territorial government is looking to off-load the property this year, citing positive future growth for the tungsten market.

"Advancing this project would be good for the Northwest Territories. Working in partnership with the federal government to market an attractive package with
world-class resources of a commodity on the upswing to private sector players with the skills to develop them is the best way forward," said Schumann in a news release.

Schumann made a public announcement on the sale at the Association for Mineral Exploration's 2019 Mineral Roundup, which took place in Vancouver from Jan. 28 to 31.

The Mactung exploration property has attracted anywhere from seven to 10 more interested companies from around the world, said

The former mine owner, NATCL, abandoned Cantung Mine and the Mactung exploration site after it went bankrupt in 2015 and was placed under a court-appointed monitor. The company owed more than 200 creditors at least $75-million.

The company was unable to repay its creditors and had $6-million in promissory notes as part of its security.

Neither an environmental assessment nor remediation for Mactung are complete.

The GNWT has spent $126,025 to remove hazardous materials, including a fuel drum, a bag of asbestos waste, containers of oily sludge and bags of calcium chloride. Nine tent frames were dismantled, said ITI spokesperson Joslyn Oosenbrug in an email.

ITI is responsible for the care and maintenance of Mactung, including its mineral lease. Canada is responsible for managing surface lands at Cantung, including care, maintenance and remediation.

The GNWT has administration and control of the mineral rights for Cantung. The NWT Geological Survey has nearly completed its field work to understand the deposit for potential buyers.

If the GNWT does sell the properties jointly with the federal government, it will have to answer questions around environmental liability, said Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly.

"I've got lots of questions, what's the asking price? Would buyers assume the environmental liabilities of these assets? Are we actually going to be able to recover the cost of this?

"(Mining) does make a contribution, there's no doubt about that. We just have to be careful how we do it," he said.

The GNWT has a mandate to create a "sound" financial securities system that prevents public liabilities, said O'Reilly.

"Our government has done nothing, quite frankly," he said.

The GNWT has yet to make legislative changes to mandate financial securities outside of lands that fall within the Lands Act.

The are no mandatory liabilities on lands inherited through devolution, although land and water boards in the Northwest Territories are in the practice of demanding them, he said.

"It's still discretionary," said O'Reilly. "Land and water boards still can hear evidence and recommend financial security but at the end of the day it's still discretionary. We have a long way to go to ensure there are no more public liabilities."