President Joe Biden’s revocation of the March 2019 allow enabling the development of the Keystone XL pipeline will doubtless lead to extra crude-by-rail volumes, based on trade observers. However how a lot volumes will enhance may largely rely on the worth that heavy crude oil can fetch within the international market. “The cancellation of the Keystone pipeline mission was inevitable as soon as the federal government modified. Regardless of its deserves or drawbacks, it’s now a deflated political soccer,” mentioned Barry Prentice, College of Manitoba provide chain administration professor and former director of the Transport Institute there. “Which means that extra crude should transfer by rail. The massive investments within the oil sands is not going to be deserted, and the oil has to go someplace.” However crude-by-rail “has been problematic as a result of with the low value for oil, and the comparatively larger value for rail transport, nothing seems very interesting. The issue is just not oil provide, it’s the diminished demand through the pandemic. As soon as we come out of this era, demand will return, and $100-per-barrel oil will, too,” Prentice mentioned. Certainly, the oil markets function one extremely seen issue figuring out how a lot crude will get produced and shipped. For the manufacturing and transport of heavy crude oil from western Canada and the U.S. to be worthwhile, the pricing unfold between a heavy crude product comparable to Western Canadian Choose (WCS) and a lightweight, candy crude comparable to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) must be favorable. WCS crude is usually priced at a reduction in opposition to WTI crude due to its decrease high quality and its larger distance from the usGulf Coast refineries. The COVID-19 pandemic was among the many components that contributed to WTI crude oil costs’ tailspin in 2020. Why the curiosity in crude oil manufacturing and transport? The oil market is not the one issue that dictates crude oil manufacturing and its subsequent transport. One other is the huge oil reserves and the quantity of funding already directed into crude oil manufacturing, in addition to crude oil’s export prospects. In accordance with the federal government of Alberta, the province’s oil sands signify the third-largest oil reserves on this planet, following Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Its reserves equal about 165.4 billion barrels, and capital investments to the upstream sector have equaled as a lot as $28.3 billion in 2016 and $26.5 billion in 2017. Moreover, based on Pure Assets Canada, 98% of Canada’s crude oil exports in 2019 went to the U.S. These investments and huge oil reserves have additionally resulted in vital investments in different areas of the vitality sector, together with investments in pipelines. The pipelines convey Canadian heavy crude south to U.S. refineries as a result of American refineries have been constructed and optimized to largely deal with heavier crude oil, based on Rob Benedict, senior director of petrochemicals, transportation and infrastructure for the American Gasoline and Petrochemical Producers Affiliation. Crude oil pipelines from Canada to the U.S. have been seen as an environment friendly technique to transport massive quantities of Canadian heavy crude oil to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. TC Power’s 1,210-mile Keystone XL pipeline would have had a capability of 830,000 barrels per day with crude oil originating from Hardisty, Alberta, and heading to Steele Metropolis, Nebraska, the place it will then be shipped to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. Had development continued, the pipeline would have entered service in 2023. However TC Power deserted the mission after Biden revoked an present presidential allow for the pipeline in January. “TC Power will evaluate the choice, assess its implications, and contemplate its choices. Nevertheless, on account of the anticipated revocation of the Presidential Allow, development of the mission shall be suspended.The corporate will stop capitalizing prices, together with curiosity throughout development, efficient January 20, 2021, being the date of the choice, and can consider the carrying worth of its funding within the pipeline, web of mission recoveries,” TC Power mentioned in a launch final month. The Keystone XL pipeline “is a vital piece that may have allowed Canada and the U.S. to proceed the excellent relationship they’ve with transporting vitality merchandise throughout the border,” Benedict mentioned. Nevertheless, suspending pipeline development would not essentially translate right into a one-for-one enhance in crude-by-rail volumes, based on Benedict. “The gist of the story is, it will have some influence on crude-by-rail. It isn’t going to shift all 830,000 barrels per day onto the rails, however any extra quantity is probably going to have some influence,” Benedict mentioned. A number of components will affect how a lot crude strikes by rail. Along with the WCS/WTI value unfold, the railways’ capability to deal with crude-by-rail is essential. Not solely are there velocity restrictions for crude trains and attainable social ramifications, there additionally capability points. The Canadian railways have reported report grain volumes over the previous a number of months, and crude volumes should compete with grain, in addition to different commodities, for a similar rail monitor. There are additionally different pipelines between Canada and the U.S. that would take a number of the volumes that may have been dealt with by the Keystone XL pipeline, Benedict mentioned. These embody Endbridge’s (NYSE: ENB) Line 3 pipeline, which runs from Canada to Wisconsin; Endbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which runs underneath the Strait of Mackinac and Lake Michigan to the Michigan Peninsula; and the Trans Mountain pipeline that is underneath improvement in Canada. It might run from Alberta to the Canadian West Coast after which probably south to U.S. refineries. And one different issue that would affect crude-by-rail is how a lot crude oil volumes go into storage, Benedict mentioned. “It isn’t only a easy query of, does one pipeline being shut down ship all to rail? It is advanced as a result of you must contemplate all of the completely different nodes of the availability chain, together with storage that may come into play,” Benedict mentioned. The Canadian railways’ views on crude-by-rail For his or her half, Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) and CN (NYSE: CNI) have each mentioned they count on to ship extra crude volumes, however neither has indicated simply how a lot volumes will develop. CP mentioned throughout its fourth-quarter earnings name on Jan. 27 that it has been seeing elevated exercise as value spreads have turn into favorable. The railway additionally expects to start transferring crude volumes from a diluent restoration unit (DRU) close to Hardisty, Alberta. US Improvement Group and Gibson Power had agreed to assemble and function the DRU in December 2019. As a part of that settlement, ConocoPhillips Canada will course of the inlet bitumen mix from the DRU and ship it through CP and Kansas Metropolis Southern (NYSE: KSU) to the U.S. Gulf Coast. “These DRU volumes will present a safer pipeline-competitive possibility for shippers and can assist to stabilize our crude enterprise into the long run,” CP Chief Advertising Officer John Brooks mentioned through the earnings name. CP President and CEO Keith Creel additionally mentioned he sees U.S. actions on the Keystone pipeline as benefiting crude-by-rail and the DRU volumes. The actions “bode for extra energy and extra potential demand for crude. We expect it creates extra assist for scaling up and growth of the DRU. So, we’re bullish on that chance,” Creel mentioned. He continued, “We nonetheless see the short-term, not long-term … pipeline capability [eventually] catch up [but] we simply suppose there’s a longer tail on it proper now. So, we predict there’s going to be an area for some potential upside in each areas.” In the meantime, in a Jan. 27 interview with Bloomberg, CN President and CEO JJ Ruest referred to as crude-by-rail a “query mark” when it comes to what vitality outlook the railway is seeing for 2021. Ruest mentioned low oil costs, decreased journey and the Keystone pipeline cancellation are among the many components influencing CN’s vitality outlook. Nevertheless, crude-by-rail could possibly be a “slight optimistic bump on the rail trade,” Bloomberg quoted Ruest as saying. CP and CN declined to remark additional to FreightWaves about crude-by-rail, and CN directed FreightWaves to the Bloomberg article. Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the newest insights on freight proper in your inbox. Click on right here for extra FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh. 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