Plan would take Alberta oil to East Coast refineries

New Brunswick Premier David Alward gestures while being recognized by the Speaker in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill.

Credits: REUTERS


EDMONTON -- While Alberta's discounted bitumen languishes for lack of a way to get to international markets, eastern Canadian refineries import 600,000 barrels of pricy oil a day from places like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Libya.

That could change now that New Brunswick Premier David Alward is Alberta-bound and ready to get a pipeline to Canada's East Coast in gear.

"There's tremendous value in moving oil to New Brunswick. The port is deep water and once we get access to the ocean, we catch world price for our oil," said Mike Deising, a spokesman for Alberta's energy ministry. Energy Minister Ken Hughes met with his New Brunswick counterpart in the fall.

The idea's gathering steam in New Brunswick. Alward, who will meet with Premier Alison Redford, industry executives and tour the oilsands in February, recently toured Saint John's Irving Oil refinery with federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who touted the province's pivotal role in a pipeline and access to the Saint John's deep-water port.

"Alward focused on the important partnerships and opportunities that will help New Brunswick emerge as Canada's next energy powerhouse," said a statement from his website.

TransCanada would convert a portion of its Canadian Mainline natural gas pipe to deliver Canadian and U.S. crude to refineries and to tidewater, both technically and economically feasible, spokesman Shawn Howard said.

"Discussions with potential shippers and other stakeholders are underway to determine if this is a project the market wants to see -- we believe it is.

"The key part will be translating interest into long-term commercial contracts."

Less than 100 km of new right-of-way will be required; 80% of the pipe is already in the ground.

With the U.S. projecting vast increases in production from the Dakotas' Bakken formation, finding other outlets for Alberta crude is a problem pressing not just on the energy industry -- the provincial budget is in crisis with a looming $6 billion shortfall from falling royalties because of the market differential compared to world prices.

The Canadian leg of the Keystone XL pipeline to the Texas Gulf Coast awaits approval by U.S. President Barack Obama after getting environmental approval from Nebraska.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., and Asian markets beyond is in regulatory review -- it got a chilly reception from B.C. Premier Christy Clark. The Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion to B.C.'s Lower Mainland is underway and a new study's considering rail to carry bitumen north to Alaska tidewater.

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