ANALYSIS: Rail supply of brent crude offers Canada a pipeline to the future

Updated 25 November 2018
0

ANALYSIS: Rail supply of brent crude offers Canada a pipeline to the future

Faisal Mrza RIYADH: Crude oil prices continued their downward fall last week, reaching their lowest level in more than a year, almost 30 percent lower than in last October. Brent crude ended the week at $58.80 per barrel and WTI fell to $50.42.
The steep slide started in early November from oversupply concerns that put bearish pressures on market sentiments. A worldwide glut is the major concern for futures, while the prompt physical market is balanced.
The real physical supply concern must be focused on the pipeline constraints that weigh on Canadian heavy crude. The Western Canadian Select (WCS) benchmark dipped to a record low last week, down to $11 per barrel, with pipeline demand far over capacity. This is the lowest since the financial crisis of 2008.
Although Canada has 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves, 95 percent of these reserves are heavy unconventional oil in the Canadian Oil Sands, located in the province of Alberta in the west.
Due to a geographical infrastructure imbalance, the capacity of the Canadian refineries, which reaches about 1.9 million barrels per day, is mostly located in the east.
In fact, the Canadians import oil to supply their eastern refineries. Therefore, Canada cannot take full benefit from its oil sands. It exports nearly all its oil production to the US at a steep discount. Due to the lack of appropriate infrastructure, the loss to the Canadian economy stands at $80 million per day.
Output from Canada’s oil sands is far beyond pipeline capacity to its US markets. Two pipeline projects that should have helped are still tied up in legal proceedings. The TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline is supposed to begin near Hardisty, Alberta, Canada and end in Steele City, Nebraska, US. It would have the capacity to deliver up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day. On Nov. 8, a US court issued an order blocking construction until an additional environmental review is conducted.
The existing Trans Mountain pipeline carries 300,000 barrels of crude and refined oil per day from Alberta to the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. Construction was supposed to begin this year on a 590,000-barrel expansion to the pipeline. However, in August 2018, on the same day that approval came for the pipeline to be sold to the Canadian government, an ongoing court battle blocked the permit for the pipeline expansion.
With pipelines over capacity, Canadian producers are moving their crude oil by rail. Crude-by-rail loadings at monitored terminals in Western Canada reached a record high monthly average of 274,000 barrels per day in October, according to Genscape Inc. data. This is more than double a year ago. The situation is dire. For the week ending Nov. 9, crude inventories at five monitored terminals in Western Canada reached 34.2 million barrels. The discount on Canadian crude is so high that some US refineries are reselling the oil outright rather than processing it.
The Canadian government is working on a deal to buy trains to move an additional 120,000 to 140,000 barrels of crude per day. Shipping crude by rail has its detractors, however. Opponents of the practice call the transportation method “bomb trains,” and claim that spills and deaths are inevitable when crude-by-rail shipments increase. As oil takes over the railways, overall shipping costs go up as capacity is strained. Pressure builds on the rail network, resulting in shipping delays for other goods. And Canadian production will continue to rise. Imperial Oil will move forward with construction of its $2 billion Aspen project in northern Alberta. The 75,000 barrel per day project is expected to begin producing in 2022.
The oil industry had hoped that well-maintained pipelines would last forever. A major spill from the Enbridge pipeline in 2010 showed that even with excellent maintenance and surveillance, it is difficult to keep pipelines running incident free. More than 40 percent of US oil pipelines were built in the 1950s and 1960s. In Alberta, at least 40 percent of the pipeline network was built before 1990.
Corrosion is a major issue. Pipeline companies fight rust corrosion through the use of coatings and cathodic protection. But with time, all coatings fail, and the level of expenditure increases for inspection and maintenance to keep pipelines intact. When downtime on the pipelines is required for maintenance, this disrupts crude oil flows.
For now, Canada will move forward with the expansion of crude oil rail shipments. A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that the environmental and health costs of transporting oil by rail are double the cost by pipeline. But with Alberta desperate to relieve the pressure on oil storage in the province, it is certain that for the foreseeable future rail shipments of Canadian crude are the only option.

Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil marketing consultant. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. He is the president of #Faisal_Mrza Consulting. Twitter: @faisalmrza


Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

Updated 25 June 2019
0

Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

  • Russian energy minister praises international cooperation to stabilize oil markets

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Monday, extending large gains last week that were prompted by tensions between Iran and the US, as Washington was set to announce new sanctions on Tehran.

West Texas Intermediate crude was up 50 cents, or 0.87 percent, at $57.93 a barrel.

Brent futures were up 9 cents, or 0.14 percent at $65.29 a barrel by 1040 GMT.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he called off a military strike in retaliation for the shooting down of a US drone by Iran, saying the potential death toll would be disproportionate, adding on Sunday that he was not seeking war.

Oil prices surged after Iran shot down the aircraft on Thursday that the US claimed was in international airspace and Tehran said was over its territory.

Brent racked up a gain of about 5 percent last week, its first weekly gain in five weeks, and WTI jumped about 10 percent, its biggest weekly percentage gain since December 2016.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “significant” sanctions on Iran would be announced on Monday aimed at further choking off resources that Tehran uses to fund its activities in the region.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said the UK believed neither the US nor Iran wanted a conflict but warned tensions could lead to an “accidental war.”

Also boosting prices, global supply may remain tight as OPEC and its allies including Russia appear likely to extend their oil cut pact at their meeting July 1-2 in Vienna, analysts said.

“An extension of OPEC+ production cuts through the end of the year seems highly likely given recent price action,” US investment bank Jefferies said in a note.

“The market expects an extension though, and any failure could see oil price gap down. The probabilities favor restraint however,” it added.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Monday said international cooperation on crude production had helped stabilize oil markets and is more important than ever.

“There is a good example of successful cooperation in balancing the oil market between the OPEC countries and non-OPEC. Thanks to joint efforts, we today see a stabilization of world oil markets,” Novak said.

Boosting oil demand, prospects of a near-term interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve aimed at bolstering the US economy have weakened the dollar.

Oil is usually priced in dollars, and a slide in the value of the weaker greenback makes it cheaper for holders of other currencies.

Separately, Iranian crude exports have dropped so far in June to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) or less after the US tightened the screws on Tehran’s main source of income, industry sources said and tanker data showed, deepening global supply losses.

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington in May ended sanctions waivers to importers of Iranian oil.

Iran has nonetheless sent abroad about 300,000 bpd of crude in the first three weeks of June, according to two industry sources who track the flows. Data from Refinitiv Eikon put crude shipments at about 240,000 bpd.

“It’s a very low level of real crude exports,” said one of the sources.

The squeeze on exports from Iran, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is a key factor for the producer group and its allies, which meet on July 1-2 to decide whether to pump more oil in the rest of 2019.

Iran’s June exports are down from about 400,000-500,000 bpd in May as estimated by the industry sources and Refinitiv and a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal.

Iranian exports have become more opaque since US sanctions returned in November, making it harder to assess volumes.

Tehran no longer reports its production figures to OPEC and there is no definitive information on exports since it can be difficult to tell if a vessel has sailed to a specific end-user.

Refinitiv Eikon data showed Iran has exported 5.7 million barrels of crude in the first 24 days of June to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Singapore and Syria, although these may not be the final destinations.

Kpler, another company which tracks oil flows, estimates that Iran loaded 645,000 bpd of crude and condensate, a light oil, onto tankers in the first half of June, of which 82 percent are floating in Gulf waters.

That would put actual crude exports in the first half of the month even lower than 300,000 bpd.

“American restrictions are having a clear effect on Iran’s ability to sell into global markets,” Kpler said.