Keystone pipeline likely back online in weeks, oil producer Canadian Natural says

(Reuters) - The Keystone crude oil pipeline may return to service within a couple of weeks, based on past spills, the president of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, the country’s biggest oil producer, said on Thursday.

Keystone, operated by TC Energy Corp, moves 590,000 barrels per day of crude from northern Alberta to U.S. Midwest refineries. The line spilled at least 9,000 barrels in rural North Dakota on Oct. 29.

“The 2017 (Keystone leak) incident took about 10-15 days for it to come back. If it is on a similar path to what it was in 2017, it should be on in the next couple weeks,” said Canadian Natural President Tim McKay on a quarterly conference call.

Analysts have said they expected Keystone to be offline for 10-12 days, back online by Nov. 10.

A TC Energy spokesman could not be immediately reached.

A U.S. regulator on Tuesday ordered that a segment of Keystone remain shut until TC Energy submits a restart and return-to-service plan because of the hazards posed.

McKay said the outage has had “very little impact” on Canadian Natural, a shipper on the pipeline.

The discount on Western Canada Select heavy crude widened on Thursday to $22.75 per barrel below the North American benchmark, the biggest in 11 months, according to Net Energy Exchange. It illustrates market worries that it may take longer than first expected to get Keystone back online, a Calgary-based trader said.

CNRL posted a quarterly profit above analysts’ estimates, as it benefited from higher production.

The Calgary-based company said total production jumped 11% to 1.18 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the third quarter. The increase reflected CNRL’s purchase of Devon Energy Corp’s Canadian assets in June.

The company’s stock jumped 6% in Toronto, helped by a rising North American crude oil futures price.

Alberta introduced mandatory production curbs from Jan. 1 this year to ease congestion on export pipelines. The Alberta government said last week that it would allow companies to produce additional oil if they move it by rail.

The company’s adjusted earnings were C$1.23 billion, compared with C$1.35 billion a year earlier.

Adjusting for certain items, the company earned C$1.04 per share, beating analysts’ average estimates of 77 Canadian cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Shradha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Marguerita Choy