Enbridge says it's not threatened by rival's eastern oil pipeline plans

CALGARY – Enbridge doesn’t see a rival pipeline company’s plan to ship western crude east as a threat to its own ambitions, new CEO Al Monaco said Wednesday as the firm posted improved quarterly results.

TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), another major Calgary-based pipeline operator, said last week its plan to convert part of its natural gas mainline to crude service appears to be economically and technically feasible, and that its customers seem to be keen on the idea.

“Whether or not the other project goes forward, I can’t really comment on,” Monaco told analysts on a conference call.

“All I can say is we’re very comfortable with our position right now.”

Earlier this year, Enbridge (TSX:ENB) said it was eyeing billions in projects to ship more western crude to eastern markets, which currently rely on costly imported crude to run through their refineries.

The strategy would involve revamping existing pipelines in the Great Lakes region to handle more oil and reversing Line 9 between Montreal and Sarnia, Ont. which currently flows east to west.

Enbridge has regulatory approval for the part of Line 9 that runs from Westover to Sarnia, Ont., and will file an application for the remaining stretch to Montreal next month, Monaco said.

The Quebec refining market has the ability to churn out some 370,000 barrels a day, with another 400,000 barrels on top of that on the East Coast, Monaco said.

And beyond that, there are opportunities to ship crude to U.S. markets such as Philadelphia and even to the other side of the Atlantic.

Earlier Wednesday, Enbridge said its third-quarter net profit was $189 million, or 24 cents per share, compared with a small net loss of $5 million or one cent a share last year.

Its adjusted earnings rose to $269 million, or 34 cents per share — up 13 per cent from last year but a penny below analyst estimates.

Enbridge’s total revenue was $5.79 billion, down from $6.28 billion a year earlier.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were on average expecting Enbridge to earn 35 cents per share in adjusted earnings and post revenues of $4.8 billion.

Monaco said the company remains on track to reach its guidance for full-year adjusted earnings of between $1.58 and $1.74 per share.

“In total, we expect 2012 to be another good year, which reflects the steady and attractive growth that you’ve become accustomed to,” he said on the call.

On Tuesday night, Enbridge announced it will build, own and operate a deepwater crude oil pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico, but did not provide a price tag for the project.

It said the pipeline would connect the proposed Heidelberg development, operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., to an existing pipeline that it did not name.

The new pipeline, which will be built underneath 1,645 metres of water, is expected to be operational by 2016, but is subject to finalization of an agreement with Anadarko and its project co-owners.

“The deepwater is, of course, where the future will be for the Gulf of Mexico,” said Monaco.

“The other nice thing about this is it broadens out our oil pipeline footprint in the Gulf. We’re going to continue to be active in the offshore area looking for opportunities like this one to strengthen the overall business.”

Enbridge’s plan to build twin pipelines connecting Alberta and the West Coast port of Kitimat B.C. has stoked a great deal of political controversy.

Northern Gateway would ship 525,000 barrels of oilsands crude to the B.C. coast for export to booming Asian economies and bring 193,000 barrels of imported diluent, used to make oilsands bitumen thin enough to flow through pipelines, in the opposite direction.

There are concerns a spill from the pipe itself or from huge tankers sailing along the coast could have dire environmental consequences, and dozens of B.C. First Nations groups have said they will under no circumstances allow Northern Gateway to cross their land. Enbridge says the system will be operated safely, with top-notch procedures and monitoring.

Proponents say Northern Gateway is a nation-building project on par with the national railroad. They say it would bring hundreds of billions in economic growth over the coming decades and that Canadian oil producers ought not be beholden to a single export customer, the United States.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says Northern Gateway and an expansion to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain line to the B.C. Lower Mainland are non-starters if five conditions aren’t met. Three of those conditions relate to the environment, one to First Nations consultation and one — the most contentious — to divvying up the economic benefits of the pipeline.

Clark says B.C. would shoulder a disproportionate amount of the pipeline’s environmental risk without the commensurate economic benefits. So far she’s left it up to pipeline backers, including Alberta Premier Alison Redford, to come up with a way to share the wealth.

Enbridge is Canada’s dominant crude shipper, with a vast network connecting western supplies to eastern Canadian and U.S. markets, which it aims to further expand, as well as a key regional system in the northern Alberta oilsands area.

In addition to its pipeline business, Enbridge is also a major distributor of natural gas in Ontario, and a growing producer of renewable energy.

Enbridge shares fell 34 cents to $39.75 in late-morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.