Riding the Rails to Unlock Canadian Crude's Value

Until TransCanada's political hot potato, the Keystone XL Pipeline project, is given the green light, Canadian oil sands producers have to find other ways to get their oil to the lucrative Gulf Coast marketplace. While the project's new route in Nebraska was recently approved by that state, it still needs to be approved by the U.S. State Department. The project's delays haven't helped a situation in which lack of pipeline takeaway capacity continues to depress the price of Canadian crude. 

To combat the problem, shippers are turning to rail to get their crude oil to market. Canadian National Railway is building a new terminal in the Gulf region to unload 25,000 barrels of oil per day to then be sent to refiners. Canadian National CMO Jean-Jacques Ruest sees the company doubling its crude oil shipping business this year to 60,000 carloads. That's on top of last year's growth to 30,000 carloads, from just 5,000 carloads in 2011. While not all of that will be Canadian crude, it'll certainly help as profits for Canadian crude shipped by rail are about $18 higher per barrel than those currently shipped by pipeline.

There are several pipeline expansion projects on the horizon that should narrow that spread and further increase the profits of Canadian producers. One project that's expected to help is the Seaway pipeline reversal and expansion project. With the pipeline's reversal now complete, the 50/50 venture between Enterprise Products Partners and Enbridge is now in the process of being expanded to double its capacity by early 2014. 


That project is just one of many that should increase the flow of Canadian crude to more profitable marketplaces. Looking out longer term, the $5.4 billion expansion that Kinder Morgan has planned for its Trans Mountain pipeline will provide West Coast access to Canadian shippers. Because of the demand from shippers, the project will expand from its original plan of 750,000 barrels per day to the current plan of 890,000 barrels per day. The project, which will triple its existing capacity, won't be complete until 2017. 

For income-seeking investors, the pipeline expansion projects should lead to nice distribution increases once they are completed. The Seaway project in particular should give Enterprise Product Partners' investors a steady pay raise as the company works to get the expansion online. Until the pipelines are complete, investors can look to profit from the growth of Canadian crude by rail, with Canadian National being positioned best to profit from this trend.

The growing production of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is flooding the North American market and resulting in record-low prices for natural gas. Enterprise Products Partners, with its superior integrated asset base, can profit from the massive bottlenecks in takeaway capacity by taking on large-scale projects. To help investors decide whether Enterprise Products Partners is a buy or a sell today, click here now to check out The Motley Fool's brand new premium research report on the company.

Editor's note: The previous version of this article stated that Mr. Ruest is the CEO of Canadian National Railway when in fact he is the Chief Marketing Officer. The Motley Fool regrets the error.

The article Riding the Rails to Unlock Canadian Crude's Value originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Matt DiLallo owns shares of Enterprise Products Partners L.P. The Motley Fool recommends Canadian National Railway, Enterprise Products Partners L.P., and Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool owns shares of Kinder Morgan. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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