EDMONTON – TransCanada Corp.’s plans to convert one of its main natural gas lines to carry crude oil from Alberta to Quebec and likely on to the Maritimes is set to move into high gear.
The firm said Tuesday it is considering an open season for shippers within a few months, and will schedule consultations with communities along the 4,800-kilometre route as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
And if all goes well, TransCanada will file for regulatory approval by the end of 2013, with construction to begin in 2015 and the line in operation by 2017. It could have a capacity of about one million barrels per day, sending light oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as synthetic crude from oilsands upgraders to Eastern refineries that currently import expensive oil from Africa and the Middle East.
“There is a great deal of interest, we are advancing discussions with shippers and are pleased the way they are going,” said Alex Pourbaix, the firm’s president for energy and oil pipelines, during a conference call Tuesday to discuss fourth-quarter earnings.
Based on expressions of interest, TransCanada expects to have an open season for shippers within a few months, allowing firms to make formal commitments. He said when intentions are clear and a route proposed, TransCanada will immediately begin consultations with communities along the route.
The existing pipe that ends in Montreal has the necessary size for the conversion process, but east of that TransCanada expects it will install new pipe along its existing rights-of-way.
“We know there is 400,000 barrels per day of demand in the domestic market of Quebec (from refineries in Montreal and Quebec City) and a further 400,000 barrels per day in the Maritimes, largely at Irving’s refinery in Saint John,” said Pourbaix.
But while domestic demand is the initial target, there are also export possibilities to the U.S. eastern seaboard.
“(The U.S.) is importing 1.5 million barrels a day and that suggests a market for domestic production to attach to that market,” said chief executive Russ Girling.
The idea of cutting through Maine to shorten the route to the Maritimes is a non-starter for TransCanada, with Pourbaix stressing that the new streamlined National Energy Board approval process offers certainty to project builders.
For TransCanada, the stalled Keystone XL line from Hardisty south to Oklahoma is perhaps a good example of the kind of costly delays they hope to avoid.
But Pourbaix said Tuesday final approval seems to be only a few months away. He said the firm has been led to believe an amended environmental impact statement should be approved in a matter of weeks.
“At that point, we are of the view that the U.S. State Department will have every piece of information it could require to make a decision,” he said, adding that when the required statutory notice periods are included, the department should be able to make a decision in two to three months.
TransCanada also explained details of its recently announced $3 billion, 500-kilometre Grand Rapids pipeline project, a 50 per cent joint venture with Phoenix Energy Holdings to bring diluted bitumen from Fort McMurray to the Edmonton region and transport diluent northward.
The dual line will be built in stages, with the smaller pipe in operation by 2015 and carrying diluted bitumen. When the larger 900,000 bpd pipeline is completed by mid-2017, the smaller line will revert to carrying 330,000 bpd of diluent north.
For the fourth quarter, TransCanada said profit fell 19 per cent as shipments on natural gas pipelines declined. Net income dropped to $306 million, or 43 cents a share, from $376 million, or 53 cents, a year earlier.
TransCanada is moving less natural gas because a glut in North American supplies has reduced prices, resulting in more of the fuel being kept in storage. Deliveries on its Canadian Mainline system fell 19 per cent to average 4.2 billion cubic feet a day during the quarter.
“While the majority of our assets continued to generate stable and predictable earnings and cash flow, plant outages at Bruce Power and Sundance A along with a lower contribution from certain natural gas pipelines did adversely affect our financial results,” said Girling.