Alberta's energy regulator could be heading north to help the Northwest Territories manage its oil patch.
The territorial government has confirmed it is in talks with the Alberta agency over providing technical services to help it evaluate energy proposals.
"We are currently in discussions with the National Energy Board and the Alberta Energy Regulator to provide us with all that technical work that supports the making of the decision," said Deborah Archibald, deputy minister of devolution for the N.W.T.
"That work would be done up to the point where a decision has to be made and then the government of the Northwest Territories will make the decision and will issue the authorization."
The N.W.T. is to take over responsibility from the federal government on April 1 for managing its natural resources. Archibald said the territory doesn't yet have the capacity to grant authorizations for the nuts and bolts of individual applications.
"In order to approve authorization, that application will get reviewed by a number of technical specialists," Archibald said. "It could be a pipeline engineer. It could be a well integrity engineer, depending on the nature of the work and the nature of the application.
"We would tap in to the technical experts that are housed in these other regulators to provide us the support to make that decision.
"The long term is for the territory to be doing this work ourselves."
Archibald said the territory is also talking with British Columbia's regulator, but those negotiations aren't as advanced.
She was unwilling to comment on any payments for the service rendered.
Kevin O'Reilly of Alternatives North, a Yellowknife-based environmental group, said it could make sense for the territorial government to look outside for expertise it doesn't yet possess.
"There is a short-term capacity issue," he said.
But negotiations are part of a larger issue involving many unanswered questions over how the territory will manage its oil patch and how much control Ottawa is really ceding, he said.
It's not clear, for example, who will be responsible for collecting the financial guarantees required under environmental rules.
The territory hasn't decided how final decisions will be made — by a minister, the territorial cabinet or an arm's-length agency.
As well, many point out that the regulatory body making decisions on mining projects will be led by a federal appointee.
O'Reilly said the N.W.T. is only getting power delegated to it by Ottawa.
"They can delegate it, but they can also take it back."