Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories covers a vast area, accounting for 13.5% of Canada's landmass, with a population of over 44,212 (2011). The territory has a rich and diversified resource base, which supports a thriving and strong economy. The government of the Northwest Territories is building on this foundation by promoting diversified resource development and value-added processing.

Key Industries


Four mines currently operated during 2012, including: Diavik, Ekati and Snap Lake diamond mines, and Cantung tungsten mine. This sector is dominated by diamonds with production valued at $2.1 billion in 2011, which accounted for 97 percent of the total estimated value of metal and non-metal production in the NWT. An estimated 3,000 people are employed by the mining industry in the NWT.

NWT deposit appraisal expenditures estimated for 2011 was $105.4 million; this was a 30 percent increase from the $81.7 million for 2010.  There is a preliminary estimate of $124 million in 2012 expenditures, a further 17 percent increase. There are currently seven significant mineral projects in various stages of development in the NWT. These include projects proposing to mine diamonds, rare earth metals, cobalt, silver, bismuth, nickel, zinc and gold.

Oil and Gas

Oil and gas exploration in the Northwest Territories is heavily in the Central Mackenzie region, with an increased focus on the offshore Beaufort Sea area. More than $600 million in work commitments have been made in the Sahtu Region, with nearly 450 seasonal jobs created in 2012. An estimated six trillion cubic feet of discovered gas reserves and nearly seven billion barrels of oil have been identified across the NWT.

Exploration in the Beaufort Sea is expected to increase in the next few years, with nearly $1.8 billion in work commitment already pledged.  Once the initial exploration work is completed and the licences and permits have been secured, drilling in the Beaufort Sea could begin sometime between 2018 and 2020


The construction industry contributed $220 million to gross domestic product in 2011.  The industry is heavily dependent on mining development and capital expenditures by the public sector.  The industry has developed innovative solutions for Arctic construction and companies in the region have exported their expertise to Russia and other polar regions.


This industry is a major employer, accounting for up to 10 per cent of all employment of the Northwest Territories.  The industry continues to play a crucial role in the development of the territories.  Supplying remote communities, moving workers and materials to job sites and getting products to market all require transportation.  In 2011, transportation and warehousing contributed $223 million to total GDP.


The tourism industry was valued at more than $97 million for the 2011/2012 season, of which half was for business travel. The tourism season in the Northwest Territories is year-round with distinct markets for winter and spring aurora viewing, summer road traffic, and fall fishing and hunting. New opportunities are developing for Aboriginal tourism that will promote unique Aboriginal cultural experiences.

Northwest Territories Contributions to the Economy

Key Economic Indicators for the Northwest Territories

  • Gross domestic product was $3.5 billion in 2011.
  • $81,316 per capita gross domestic product in 2011, the highest in Canada.
  • $74,746 average income per taxable return in 2010, the highest in Canada.
  • 72.3% rate of employment (July 2011).
  • $73,037 in exports per capita in 2011
Major Exports in 2011 Value
Diamonds $2.1 billion
Crude Oil $396 million
Natural Gas $20 million

Anticipated Major Project Investments Projected to the Year 2015

  • $960 million for the De Beers Gahcho Kue diamond mine project.
  • More than $600 million in works commitments in oil and gas exploration in the Sahtu region.
  • $210 million for the Fortune Minerals Nico gold, cobalt and bismuth mine project.
  • $100 million for the Tyhee Yellowknife gold project.
  • $55 million for the Prairie Creek silver, zinc and lead mine project

A Look to the Future

The economy of the Northwest Territories is based on the primary resource industries of diamonds, oil, gas, and the harvesting of other natural resources.  Through exploration, research and innovation, there is huge potential to expand this resource base into new areas. Significant opportunities exist to add value to the region's primary products, diversify the economy, and to improve efficiency in processing resources.

The planned development of natural gas in the Northwest Territories combined with the discovery of significant oil in the Sahtu region, coupled with the resurgence of the secondary diamond industry will contribute significantly to the national gross domestic product. The Northwest Territories also has enormous stores of other precious and base metals that remain untapped for lack of adequate infrastructure and investment.

Opportunities exist in the renewable resources industry including forestry, fishing and fur harvesting, as well as hydroelectricity. Preliminary studies show that the Northwest Territories has the potential to generate comparable hydro power to Baie-James or Churchill Falls using modern run-of-river technology that will limit environmental impacts.