Company News

Prospects advance for Canada's oil pipelines, but hurdles remain

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Prospects for expanding pipelines to move Canadian oil to markets have brightened, but plenty of hurdles remain for the Canadian sector, which has struggled for years with low prices and a glut in storage due to long project delays.

Two of three major proposals - TC Energy Corp’s Keystone XL and the Canadian government-owned Trans Mountain - have cleared obstacles to bring them a step closer to fruition.

The third, Enbridge Inc’s Line 3, faces a new round of hearings before regulators in Minnesota on Friday to weigh its environmental risks.

Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of oil, with output of roughly 4.7 million bpd. But it has been unable to take full advantage of that production due to bottle-necked pipelines.

“The folks I talk to in the energy industry and investment industry are very much in the mode of ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,’” said Mike Tims, vice-chairman at Matco Investments in Calgary, Alberta.

“People are more optimistic clearly, because there is progress being made. But there have been a sufficient number of deferrals and delays. We’re reluctant to count on it until it actually happens.”

Line 3 looks closest to the finish line of the three projects, while Keystone XL’s future is far from certain with a U.S. presidential election approaching and “anti-carbon sentiment intensifying,” said Simon Ong, senior investment analyst at RARE Infrastructure, an Australia-based fund management company.

TC Energy Corp, which has fought for more than a decade to win U.S. approvals for its Keystone XL line, this month announced an aggressive construction schedule as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management granted a 30-year right of way.

The company has not yet greenlit the project.

Trans Mountain, a pipeline that Ottawa intends to expand, survived a challenge from the British Columbia government this month over whether the province can regulate what the pipeline transports.

The projects could still bog down. Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal has yet to rule on whether the Canadian government adequately consulted indigenous groups before approving Trans Mountain’s expansion.

All three proposals look riskier than when they were first proposed due to rising public pressure to shift away from fossil fuels, said Eugene Kung, staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, an advocacy organization opposed to Trans Mountain.

“None of these remain done deals.”

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Dan Grebler