The Alberta government has hired Calgary firm Canatec Associates International Ltd. to determine the feasibility of laying an oilsands pipeline to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, Energy Minister Ken Hughes said Tuesday.
"We're actually serious about exploring all options -- what we need is access to the ocean to get a world price for our oil and we'll do everything we can," said Hughes who called the $50,000 study as a "preliminary scouting expedition."
He said the government of the Northwest Territories approached Alberta to discuss the possibility of a pipeline that would also require a deep ocean port at its terminus.
Plans to transport Alberta bitumen to the west coast in Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway route and south to Texas in TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline have met dogged resistance from First Nations, environmentalists and other land owners.
An oil pipeline up the Mackenzie River Valley to the Arctic ocean and loaded onto tankers for transport to Asia and Europe is likely to run into similar obstacles, said Nathan Lemphers of the environmental group Pembina Institute.
"You can talk to anyone who was involved in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline for a lesson on how difficult it is to get a pipeline approved to the Arctic Ocean," said Lemphers, referring to the natural gas route that underwent 37 years of negotiations.
While some Native bands in B.C. have agreed to have gas pipelines cross their territory, a far riskier bitumen line has and would meet more opposition, he predicted.
"They're able to discern there's different impacts, different benefits -- the likelihood seems pretty remote of seeing a pipeline being built to the Arctic," he said.
Hughes said the attitudes of those governing the N.W.T. has evolved considerably since the earlier pipeline.
"Things have changed dramatically ... they'll soon have responsibility for their natural resources and are looking forward to how they can make the most of it," he said.
Future NWT oil production could also be tied into any new pipeline, said Hughes.
He denied Lemphers' suggestion the study is meant as a bargaining chip to encourage the U.S. to approve Keystone XL.
"We believe it's well worth exploring -- we've been working to expand all reasonable options," said Hughes.