Should B.C. Premier Christy Clark follow through on her promise to block the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline if her conditions for the project aren't met, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod says he would be prepared to step in and support a "northern route" that would see bitumen shipped from Alberta north to the N.W.T. and out to Asia.

That's because the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, a $16.2-billion project intended to transport natural gas from the Beaufort Sea through the Northwest Territories, south to a hub in northwestern Alberta and out to North American markets, has been put on hold after its investors suspended the funding.

In an interview that aired Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, McLeod said his preference is to see the Mackenzie Valley pipeline project go ahead but if the project is dead then he is prepared to look at "all the possibilities."

"If all the doors are closed, then we're prepared to look at other options," McLeod told guest host Louise Elliott.

After a lengthy review, Canada's National Energy Board (NEB) approved the Mackenzie Valley pipeline in Dec. 2010, more than six years after the project's developers submitted their plans. However, development of the pipeline was proposed in the 1970s.

The NEB gave the developers, a five-member consortium, until the end of 2013 to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the project. But in April, two of the partners announced they were either suspending the funding or scaling it back, citing low prices for natural gas and ongoing negotiations with the federal government on incentives to lower the costs of the project.

McLeod said it would help if the federal government would deem the Mackenzie Valley pipeline to be in Canada's "national interest," just as it has already done with the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project.

The N.W.T. can't afford to have its "natural resources stranded for another 40 years," McLeod said.

No 'direct discussions'

Although no "direct discussions" are currently underway between the governments of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, Cal Dallas, Alberta's minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations, welcomed McLeod's overture.

"We would be more than pleased to talk to Premier McLeod and anyone in the N.W.T. that's interested in the potential of co-operating on projects," Dallas said in an interview that also aired Saturday on The House.

Dallas said he took McLeod's comments "as a signal that the Northwest Territories recognizes that access to markets for Alberta energy would really enhance economic opportunities and jobs across Canada."

McLeod's comments might "encourage the private sector to contemplate the economic viability" of other pipeline projects, the Alberta minister said.

Dallas said a northern route that would see Alberta's bitumen transported north to the N.W.T. and out to Asia "might be a project … that could be actively contemplated" at some point in the future.

On Friday, the federal government set a firm deadline of Dec. 31, 2013, for the joint review panel to submit its report on the Northern Gateway project.

The firm deadline was to comply with the federal government's omnibus budget legislation that passed in June, which included the fast-tracking of the regulatory approval process for major energy projects.

The deadline came on the heels of a cabinet minister expressing doubt about Enbridge's safety record.

Amid growing protests against the Northern Gateway pipeline, Heritage Minister James Moore, a senior minister for B.C., told a Vancouver radio program that Enbridge ought to take environmental safety more seriously if the proposed pipeline is to be approved.

Calgary-based Enbridge is facing increased scrutiny and criticism following a major oil spill in the United States and an unfavourable report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board looking into a 2010 oil spill. That U.S. report prompted the NEB to announce it will increase its safety audits on the company's Canadian operations in the coming months.

At the Council of the Federation premiers meeting last week in Halifax, B.C. rejected a national energy strategy led by Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Premier Christy Clark said a national energy strategy had to address British Columbia's concerns about moving heavy oil across the province and its coastlines.

According to McLeod, all the provinces and territories could benefit from a national energy strategy and "no one individual project should overshadow that."