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Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline Will Rely on Spot Shipments to Turn a Profit

The expanded Trans Mountain oil pipeline will rely on spot customers to see a positive equity return or return on capital in 2026, according to company filings with Canadian regulators reviewed by Reuters.

The expanded Trans Mountain pipeline is tripling the capacity of the original pipeline to 890,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 300,000 bpd to carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia on the Pacific Coast.

The Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX), which became operational last month, has reserved 20% of its capacity – or 178,000 bpd – to uncommitted customers, or spot shippers.

Trans Mountain’s financial projections in the regulatory filings over tolls reveal that the government-owned corporation expects its capacity to be 96% full starting in 2025. This would result in a positive equity return in 2026, according to the company’s forecasts.

However, if there are zero spot shipments, Trans Mountain will not see a positive equity return until 2031. 

Tolls for the spot capacity are higher and would generate more income for TMX but they are not easily predictable as they depend on demand for Canada’s crude and on the price of Canada’s heavy crude, Western Canada Select (WCS).

This month, TMX is running at around 80% full capacity, while a “little bit” of the spot capacity is being used, Mark Maki, Chief Financial and Strategy Officer at Trans Mountain Corporation, told Reuters earlier in June.

“We're basically running at effectively right around contract level with a little bit of spot on the system,” Maki told Reuters.

Volumes are expected to rise ahead of the winter, the executive added.

The Federal Government of Canada bought TMX from Kinder Morgan back in 2018, together with related pipeline and terminal assets. That cost the federal government $3.3 billion (C$4.5 billion) at the time. Since then, the costs for the pipeline expansion have soared to nearly $23 billion (C$30.9 billion).

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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