David Ramsay and N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod have for some time been touting the concept of an "Arctic Gateway" pipeline, which could see Alberta crude moved north for shipment from a port on the Beaufort Sea coast.
It's one alternative to shipping Alberta crude to the west, east and south amid opposition and regulatory delays.
In an interview this week, Ramsay said there's industry interest in the idea, but it's still early days.
Ramsay, the territory's minister of industry, tourism and investment and justice, declined to say which companies the Northwest Territories government met with in Calgary and Houston.
"I wouldn't want to put anybody on the spot, but suffice it to say we are meeting, we are discussing opportunities and getting folks to look at some different scenarios," Ramsay said.
Suzanne Wilton, a spokeswoman for pipeline giant Enbridge (TSX:ENB), confirmed company representatives have met with Ramsay, but gave no further details.
"Given the scope of our business, Enbridge regularly engages with various communities and stakeholders, including governments," she said in an emailed statement.
Enbridge already operates a 870-kilometre oil pipeline between Norman Wells, N.W.T., and Zama, Alta. that has capacity to spare.
Another major Canadian pipeline player, TransCanada (TSX:TRP), was involved in the Mackenzie Gas Project. Before it was shelved indefinitely, that project had aimed to carry natural gas from fields near the Beaufort coast southward.
As for whether TransCanada may be considering another Arctic foray, company spokesman Mark Cooper wouldn't say.
"We don't disclose potential business opportunities, which we pursue in a broad range of geographies and across our full suite of business lines, as a matter of normal course," Cooper said in an email.
"We continue to look at opportunities to connect to our system, and will announce projects once they become more certain."
TransCanada's proposed cross-border Keystone XL pipeline has been mired in the U.S. regulatory process for nearly seven years, while its Energy East pipeline to Atlantic Canada is facing mounting opposition and has been delayed by two years. Enbridge has a federal permit to start building its Northern Gateway pipeline through B.C., but hasn't decided to build it.
"We'll see where it all goes, but right now you don't see too much happening in the way of Keystone or Energy East or Northern Gateway," said Ramsay.
"The North may, in fact, at some point be a viable option."
Energy consultant Doug Matthews said most aboriginal groups in the Northwest Territories supported the Mackenzie Gas Project, but a project that would carry oilsands crude would be a tougher sell.
"I woudn't say it's not doable. I would say it's challenging," he said. "Hell — so was building the Canadian Pacific Railway."
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