The un-Keystone pipeline deal just handed oil sands producers $90/barrel

The price of US crude oil broke through the psychologically important $100/barrel level on Wednesday after news of a pipeline deal that will relieve the oil glut in Cushing, Oklahoma, the pricing point for US crude. The US benchmark crude price West Texas Intermediate is now up more than a third from year-lows of $76 struck in early October.

On top of the almost 3% move higher to $102 on Wednesday, the gap between WTI and the international benchmark price, Brent, reduced dramatically. From a record margin of $26.87 early September, WTI is now less than $10 cheaper. At the same time the discount on Western Canada Select narrowed 55 cents to $11.40/barrel meaning oil sands producers now get more than $90 per barrel for their heavy oil for the first time since June.

Historically WTI has traded at a premium to Brent, but has steadily declined since the Saudis dropped the WTI contract as their benchmark in 2009. Many believed a discount of more than $25 a barrel had no connection to reality. Despite the fact that Brent futures contracts are now the benchmark for more than 65% of the global trade in crude, they are less liquid than WTI contracts, making them more prone to manipulation by oil traders and hedge funds. At the start of 2011 WTI’s discount to Brent was only $3.37.

Syncrude, a light oil made from oil sands after undergoing an expensive upgrading process, still attracted a premium to WTI of to $4.75 a barrel on Wednesday, but that is down from a premium of $18 in August during the Canadian Natural Resources upgrader outage and is set to return to historical levels of a slight discount.

The 18-month delay for approval for Keystone XL that would have the capacity to carry 1.3 million barrels per day to the US led many to believe that the Cushing oil glut would persist and continue to drive down US crude prices. At the moment only 100,000 barrels of Canadian crude goes to Gulf coast refineries, but Enbridge’s deal with ConocoPhillips to buy the Seaway pipeline changes the dynamics. A reversed Seaway will initially be able to carry 150,000 barrels per day by the second quarter of 2012. Following additional pump stations and modifications, capacity will increase to 400,000 barrels per day by early 2013.

Some have even speculated that the slow pace of pipeline construction – and ConocoPhillips’ reluctance to sell Seaway – have been because the US big three want to protect their refining margins. ConocoPhillips, (NYSE:COP), Exxon Mobil’s (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CHV) have announced record profits recently thanks to their refineries that buy oil at WTI prices and sell gasoline linked to international benchmarks.

Read more on how when pipelines like Keystone XL are built the biggest losers will not be the Greens, but Big Oil.

Press Release:

CALGARY, ALBERTA and HOUSTON, TEXAS–(Marketwire – Nov. 16, 2011) – Enbridge Inc. and Enterprise Products Partners L.P. today announced that they have agreed to reverse the direction of crude oil flows on the Seaway pipeline to enable it to transport oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Pending regulatory approval, the line could operate in reversed service with an initial capacity of 150,000 barrels per day by second quarter 2012.

“The Seaway Pipeline reversal provides an early opportunity to offer Gulf Coast access to midcontinent producers and other crude oil shippers,” said Patrick D. Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer, Enbridge Inc.

“A Seaway reversal will provide capacity to move secure, reliable supply to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, offsetting supplies of imported crude.” Michael A. Creel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise’s general partner, said, “We congratulate Enbridge on its agreement to purchase a 50 per cent interest in Seaway.

We believe that reversing the direction of crude oil movement on Seaway and the construction of additional infrastructure will accelerate access to Gulf Coast markets, reduce transportation costs, improve both producer and refiner economics and hasten the development of North America’s crude oil reserves.

” Following pump station additions and modifications, anticipated to be completed by early 2013, the capacity of the reversed Seaway Pipeline will be up to 400,000 barrels per day in mixed service. Enbridge and Enterprise expect that the reversed Seaway pipeline will be fully contracted. The partners anticipate conducting an open season to validate shipper support for an expansion of Seaway, through looping or twinning.

After reversing the direction that crude oil flows on the 500-mile (805-kilometer), 30-inch diameter, long-haul pipeline, Seaway will deliver crude from Cushing into the Houston-area market by utilizing existing affiliate and third-party pipelines as well as its Texas City local pipeline system.

Enbridge and Enterprise plan to build a 45-mile (72-kilometer) pipeline that will link Seaway directly to Enterprise’s ECHO crude oil storage terminal located southeast of Houston. This will provide shippers with enhanced connectivity and more efficient transportation to the Houston refining market. Additional investment required by the joint venture partners to reverse the line and construct supporting lateral and related facilities is expected to be approximately $300 million.

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