The Dene knew of the existence of seeping oil and called the area Le Gohlini (meaning "where the oil is"). Imperial Oil began drilling wells in 1919 and built a small refinery, which operated until 1925.
Norman Wells, NWT, incorporated as a town in 1992, population 727 (2011c), 761 (2006c). The Town of Norman Wells is located on the north bank of the Mackenzie River, 145 km south of the Arctic Circle and 684 air km northwest of Yellowknife. It was the first settlement in the NWT to be established entirely as a result of nonrenewable-resource development. The name was chosen because of the site's close proximity to Fort Norman (now Tulita), 85 km upstream on the Mackenzie.
The Dene knew of the existence of seeping oil and called the area Le Gohlini (meaning "where the oil is"). Imperial Oil began drilling wells in 1919 and built a small refinery, which operated until 1925. Radium mining on Great Bear Lake (1933) and gold mining at Yellowknife (1936) led to the refinery being reopened and new facilities built. During World War II, the Canol Pipeline was built between Norman Wells and Whitehorse, YT; it was abandoned after the war. In the spring of 1985, the Norman Wells pipeline, linking Norman Wells to the south, was completed.
The refinery was shut down in 1996 but the oil fields in the area continue to produce over a million barrels of crude oil per year. Natural gas is also produced. Norman Wells is also the main transportation centre for air and river traffic in the region. A winter road (December to March) between Wrigley on the Mackenzie Highway and Colville Lake, north of Norman Wells, connects the town to the main highway system. Tourism is expanding, particularly outfitting for those tackling parts of the Canol pipeline route. The Sahtu Dene, who make up nearly one-half of the population, continue to harvest their lands and resources in the area.