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Report says pipeline squeeze could be ‘devastating’ to Canadian economy

The Keystone oil pipeline under construction in North Dakota.

Reuters

The inability to get oilsands crude to the right markets is costing the Canadian economy dearly, according to a new report paid for by the Saskatchewan government.

Each stalled pipeline project means a loss to the Canadian economy of between $30 million and $70 million every day, said the report penned by the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary-based think-tank.

"The loss to the Canadian economy will be devastating if we don't dramatically expand our pipeline capacity to multiple markets," said Canada West Foundation CEO Dylan Jones.

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"Abandoning this industry to oil producing countries with lower standards is not leadership."

The report was commissioned by the Saskatchewan government, whose premier has been an outspoken supporter of new pipeline projects. Most recently, Brad Wall, along with 10 U.S. governors, signed a letter urging U.S. President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

In recent months, oilsands crude has been trading at a painfully steep discount to both U.S. and global light crude benchmarks. It's a trend that has both eroded oilpatch profits and caused the Alberta government to warn of a $6-billion budget shortfall.

At the heart of the problem is a lack of adequate pipeline capacity to get that crude to the markets that want it most. Proposals of eastbound, westbound and southbound pipelines are in varying stages of development, but environmental opposition and political wrangling makes their timelines uncertain.

There are currently seven pipelines that carry Alberta crude outside of that market, the majority of which go to the U.S. Midwest. A few also go to the U.S. Rocky Mountain states. One, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain, goes to the B.C. Lower Mainland and U.S. Pacific Northwest, but it's full.

The Canada West Foundation says the current pipeline infrastructure fails to connect crude to the right markets — Asia, the U.S. Gulf Coast and the East Coast.

A massive expansion to Trans Mountain and Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal would enable crude to be transported to Asia via tanker, but they face stiff opposition within B.C.

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TransCanada Corp. is awaiting final U.S. government approval for the northern leg of its Keystone XL pipeline, which would allow Canadian crude to flow to refineries on the Gulf Coast that are thirsty for heavy oil. Construction on the southern leg between Oklahoma and the Gulf is underway.

Refineries in eastern Canada and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard rely on pricey imported crude from overseas, which is hurting their economics. Both TransCanada and Enbridge have projects in the works to send western crude eastward through reconfigured pipes that are already in the ground. It's possible those pipes could extend all the way to New Brunswick, home to Canada's largest refinery.

"If pipeline project proposals such as Trans Mountain, Keystone XL and Northern Gateway don't move forward, Canada will be foregoing $1.3 trillion in economic output, 7.4 million person-years of employment and $281 billion in tax revenue between now and 2035," said Michael Holden, the foundation's senior economist and author of the report.

While most of the benefits would accrue to Alberta, Holden said those three projects would add a combined $84 billion to economies elsewhere in Canada.

The report calls on provinces to work together to tackle the problem, the way Alberta Premier Alison Redford and New Brunswick Premier David Alward did earlier this week in touting an eastbound oil pipeline.

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