07/15/2015 11:56 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 01:12 EDT

N.W.T. in preliminary talks with firms about potential Arctic oil pipeline route

CALGARY — The Northwest Territories minister in charge of resource development says there have been preliminary discussions with pipeline companies about shipping crude oil through the Arctic.

David Ramsay says there's interest in a concept that the territorial government has been advocating for some time, but he adds that it's still early days.

The so-called Arctic Gateway idea could see Alberta crude moved north through the Northwest Territories for shipment from a port on the Beaufort Sea coast.

It could be an alternative to shipping Alberta crude to the west, east and south amid opposition and regulatory delays.

Ramsay declined to say which companies the Northwest Territories government met with in Calgary and Houston.

Pipeline giant Enbridge (TSX:ENB) confirms its representatives met have met with Ramsay while its peer, TransCanada (TSX:TRP), says it doesn't disclose potential business opportunities until projects become more certain.

TransCanada's proposed cross-border Keystone XL pipeline has been mired in the U.S. regulalory 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 territory's minister of industry, tourism and investment and justice.

"The North may, in fact, at some point be a viable option."

The Canadian Press