Regional prices of crude oil pumped in Western Canada and in North Dakota have risen this week to lower their discounts to the U.S. benchmark, WTI Crude, after freezing winter temperatures disrupted crude flows from Alberta’s oil sands and the Bakken shale play in the United States.
While frigid winter weather is not uncommon in these parts of North America, temperatures this week fell well below normal, disrupting flows on the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to the United States that carries close to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the U.S. Midwest.
Frigid conditions and stormy, snowy weather took over North Dakota this week as an Alberta clipper brought snow and wind gusts, and real-feel temperatures around Grand Forks, North Dakota, plunged to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 34 degrees Celsius). Winter weather advisories were issued from Montana to North Dakota, Illinois, and Michigan.
The below-normal winter temperatures in major oil-producing centers such as Alberta and North Dakota led to disruption of oil flows, pushing regional prices higher and contributing to global supply disruptions (and fears of such), which boosted the U.S. benchmark oil price to above $80 a barrel at the end of this week. This was the highest prompt price at which WTI Crude has traded since the middle of November, before the Omicron fears sparked selloffs in late November and early December.
The deep freeze forced TC Energy to shut down the Keystone pipeline for several hours for unplanned maintenance as temperatures in the area of the Hardisty terminal in Alberta were expected to drop to minus 35 Celsius. The emergency maintenance on Keystone began on the evening of Tuesday. The pipeline resumed operations on Wednesday evening, TC Energy said, noting that its operations on the U.S. Gulf Coast remained uninterrupted.
Temperatures from Alberta to North Dakota were in deep sub-zero territory, and besides the Keystone pipeline, oil wells were also beginning to get affected.
The price for crudes produced in North Dakota and Alberta started to reflect expectations of tighter supply going forward.
According to Bloomberg estimates, the discount of Western Canadian Select (WCS)—the benchmark price of oil from Canada’s oil sands delivered at Hardisty, Alberta—relative to WTI Crude has narrowed by $3 per barrel from the end of December to $12.10 per barrel this week.
The price of the crude from the Bakken shale in North Dakota at the hub at Clearbrook, Minnesota, has increased by $0.90 a barrel and traded at a premium of $1.25 per barrel to the WTI Crude futures—the highest premium in two months. This week, Bakken crude traded in Wyoming at prices higher than WTI Crude prices for the first time since the middle of November due to disruptions caused by the deep freeze.
Operators in North Dakota and Alberta are much better prepared for freezing winter conditions than were those in Texas in February last year, so effects on supply were nowhere near the scale seen in the largest oil-producing state in America.
Still, the disruption to oil flows in the oil sands and in the Bakken added to global supply disruptions with Libyan production down by 30 percent these days compared to November, and concerns over supply from OPEC+ group’s member Kazakhstan, a producer of around 1.6 million bpd, where violent, deadly protests erupted this week. U.S. supermajor Chevron, the operator of Kazakhstan’s largest oilfield, Tengiz, said on Thursday that crude oil production from the field was reduced because some logistics contactors disrupted train lines in support of the protests.
As a result of all these supply issues in North America, Kazakhstan, and Libya, plus estimates that OPEC once again undershot by a wide margin its production target under the OPEC+ deal, the price of WTI Crude topped $80 per barrel this week for the first time since mid-November.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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