Once Canada's oil relief valve, rail shipping grinds to near halt
By Rod Nickel WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - After moving record-large Canadian oil volumes by rail just five months ago, shippers have hit the brakes, idling thousands of cars and tens of millions of dollars' worth of infrastructure. Rail was Canada's oil lifeline in recent years when cheaper pipelines ran full and crude had no other exit from landlocked Alberta.
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - After moving record-large Canadian oil volumes by rail just five months ago, shippers have hit the brakes, idling thousands of cars and tens of millions of dollars' worth of infrastructure.
Rail was Canada's oil lifeline in recent years when cheaper pipelines ran full and crude had no other exit from landlocked Alberta. But oil production cuts this year opened pipeline space and eliminated demand for trains, leaving producers like Cenovus Energy Inc
Cenovus said last week it was spending as much as C$20 million ($14.97 million) per month for its suspended rail program, one-quarter of the costs when it is fully active, but now generating no revenue to offset expenses.
Prospects of a longer-term rail recovery also look dim as long-planned pipeline expansions enter service in each of the next two years.
Canadian crude by rail volumes in May fell to 58,048 barrels per day (bpd), the lowest in four years, the Canada Energy Regulator said. In February, they had peaked at nearly 412,000 bpd.
Cenovus has idled several thousand tank cars, said Chief Executive Alex Pourbaix. He said they will stay parked pending several shifts - rebounding Canadian oil production, pipelines filling again, and a wider gap between Canadian and U.S. crude prices to justify rail shipments' higher cost than pipelines.
It looks doubtful that will happen soon.
"I wouldn’t be surprised to see (price) differentials widen. (But) I don’t know if they’re going to widen enough in the second half to incent rail," Pourbaix said in an interview.
Canadian heavy crude in Alberta traded this week for around $10 per barrel below the U.S. benchmark for September delivery, according to NE2 Group, well below the $15-$20 industry estimate for economic rail shipments. Trades for later delivery show the differential widening to just $13 in the fourth quarter.
Even so, Pourbaix expects Canadian oil production to grow to fill expanded pipelines in coming years, reviving the need for rail.
Greater availability of pipeline space has helped keep differentials narrow.
Demand exceeded supply by 7% on two Enbridge Inc
Investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co forecasts "next to no rail requirements" in Canada into 2021, said analyst Matt Murphy, adding that oil production looks slow to return.
All of that could change suddenly, depending on how quickly pandemic restrictions lift and fuel demand returns, or if there is a significant pipeline outage.
Some are more optimistic.
Suncor Energy Inc
Consultancy Wood Mackenzie also sees rail volumes rising in the second half as production returns.
But large western terminals, owned by Cenovus as well as partnerships between Imperial Oil
Altex has slowed loadings but not shut any terminals as its shipments remain economic for shippers because they do not require blending with costly lighter oil, he said.
Imperial and Gibson, which report quarterly results soon, declined to comment. Pembina did not respond.
Railways and independent terminals are better insulated from economic damage than oil shippers, as some continue collecting payments, whether they have crude to move or not.
Such payments contracts allow USD to maintain operating capability as markets fluctuate, said Jim Albertson, senior vice president for USD's Canadian unit.
Canadian National Railway
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Danish Siddiqui killed in Afghanistan: Politicans, journalists pay tributes
The Pulitzer prize winner, who was in Kandahar covering operations against Taliban, was killed when he was riding along with the Afghan Special Forces
Siddiqui had also covered the 2020 Delhi riots, COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal earthquake in 2015 and the protests in Hong Kong
Danish's photographs were not just documentation, but the work of someone who went down to eye-level, as they say in photographic parlance.