A small Calgary company backed by a Chinese petroleum firm is ready to begin a major exploration project for the Eagle Plains area along the Dempster Highway, a company official says.

At the Vuntut Gwitchin general assembly in Old Crow on the weekend, Northern Cross Energy Limited president Richard Wyman told members his firm is putting $20 million into the exploration program after winning government approval with a $150,000 bid earlier this year.

Wyman said there's a sense of urgency to getting the project up and running.

"I have to say [it needs to begin] as soon as possible," Wyman said, "because we have to get a rig that is large enough to drill the depths that we have in mind.

"The rig that we currently own, situated at Eagle Plain, will not be able to drill more than about 2,300 metres and we are looking at 3,000 metres or more."

While the firm has received approval for this project, Wyman said, expansion would require further consultation and approval.