CALGARY - A number of new parcels of land are coming available in an emerging Canol shale oil deposit in the Central Mackenzie Valley, and Northwest Territories Industry Minister David Ramsay says he expects them to pique a lot of industry interest.
The leases are to the north of where companies such as Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO), Royal Dutch Shell Shell, ConocoPhillips, MGM Energy (TSX:MGM) and Husky (TSX:HSE) have already committed to spend a combined $630 million on drilling.
Ramsay says there's "great industry interest" in the new parcels, some of which are within the Gwich'in Settlement Region.
"We're very, very excited about more prospects, more bids being put in on those parcels and economic activity and prosperity in the Central Mackenzie Valley. It's looking very positive for this winter and for the foreseeable future."
An official with the Mackenzie Valley Petroleum Planning Office said the number of parcels up for bid is six.
Ramsay attended the Pacific Northwest Economic Region summit in Anchorage, Alaska, last week where the subject of a "made-in-the-north" oil pipeline came up.
He has been promoting the idea of shipping crude from Alberta through the Northwest Territories and the Yukon to the Alaskan port of Valdez, where it could be transported by tanker to lucrative Asian markets.
The Northwest Territories has had stranded natural gas in the Mackenzie Delta for 40 years, with a proposal to build a pipeline south long dormant. Ramsay said he doesn't want to see the same fate for oil resources in the Canol and offshore in the Beaufort Sea.
"Now is the time. We can't afford to just sit back and wait. I think we have to try to make some things happen here. We've got to be aggressive," he said.
"We need to start talking about this from a regional perspective and how we can all benefit from offering up solutions and options that include the North."
Ramsay envisions a northern pipeline including Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) underused line that runs from Zama in northwest Alberta to Norman Wells, N.W.T., following the right-of-way of the Dempster Highway into the Yukon and then making use of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
Another option could be flowing crude straight north from Alberta to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. on the Beaufort Sea.
With pipeline proposals to the B.C. coast facing numerous challenges, Ramsay is aiming to lay the political groundwork for an alternative northern route to get Canadian crude to market.
So far, talks have been taking place at the political level, and Ramsay hasn't had the chance to sit down with pipeline companies such as TransCanada (TSX:TRP) or Enbridge (TSX:ENB) yet.
Ramsay said he doesn't see the northern options being as "fraught with pitfalls" as proposals such as Enbridge's Northern Gateway, which has been the subject of intense environmental opposition.
"If we can put the case forward, I think at some point in time here, you'll see companies start talking about it."