Northwest Territories Industry Minister Dave Ramsay told the Platts news service during an energy conference in New Orleans that a partnership between Canada's Imperial Oil, BP and Exxon Mobil could seek approval from the government to start work in the Beaufort Sea by mid-2013.
"(They are) anxious to move forward and are looking at the Beaufort as an opportunity," he was quoted as saying.
Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser told Platts it was too soon to spell out a drilling forecast, however. Imperial said the area may hold as much as 90 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
The majors there would target primarily oil reserves that could be delivered to the southern Canadian and U.S. markets, said Ramsay. An Enbridge pipeline in the region is operating at about 25 percent of its designed 40,000 barrel-per-day capacity.
Ramsay said there were additional plans to increase the pipeline networks in the region for oil and natural gas.
The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration states that Canada has the third-largest amount of oil reserves in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. About 98 percent of Canadian reserves exist as oil sands, which the EIA said accounts for 170 billion barrels worth of oil.