Game changer: Trans Mountain pipeline expansion complete and starting to flow Canada’s oil to the world

Workers complete the "golden weld" of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on April 11, 2024 in the Fraser Valley between Hope and Chilliwack, B.C. The project saw mechanical completion on April 30, 2024. Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

It is a game changer for Canada that will have ripple effects around the world.  

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is now complete. And for the first time, global customers can access large volumes of Canadian oil, with the benefits flowing to Canada’s economy and Indigenous communities.  

“We’re going to be moving into a market where buyers are going to be competing to buy Canadian oil,” BMO Capital Markets director Randy Ollenberger said recently, adding this is expected to result in a better price for Canadian oil relative to other global benchmarks. 

The long-awaited expansion nearly triples capacity on the Trans Mountain system from Edmonton to the West Coast to approximately 890,000 barrels per day. Customers for the first shipments include refiners in China, California and India, according to media reports.  

Shippers include all six members of the Pathways Alliance, a group of companies representing 95 per cent of oil sands production that together plan to reduce emissions from operations by 22 megatonnes by 2030 on the way to net zero by 2050.  

The first tanker shipment from Trans Mountain’s expanded Westridge Marine Terminal is expected later in May.

Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

 The new capacity on the Trans Mountain system comes as demand for Canadian oil from markets outside the United States is on the rise.  

According to the Canada Energy Regulator, exports to destinations beyond the U.S. have averaged a record 267,000 barrels per day so far this year, up from about 130,000 barrels per day in 2020 and 33,000 barrels per day in 2017. 

“Oil demand globally continues to go up,” said Phil Skolnick, New York-based oil market analyst with Eight Capital.  

“Both India and China are looking to add millions of barrels a day of refining capacity through 2030.” 

In India, refining demand will increase mainly for so-called medium and heavy oil like what is produced in Canada, he said. 

“That’s where TMX is the opportunity for Canada, because that’s the route to get to India.”  

Led by India and China, oil demand in the Asia-Pacific region is projected to increase from 36 million barrels per day in 2022 to 52 million barrels per day in 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

More oil coming from Canada will shake up markets for similar world oil streams including from Russia, Ecuador, and Iraq, according to analysts with Rystad Energy and Argus Media. 

Expanded exports are expected to improve pricing for Canadian heavy oil, which “have been depressed for many years” in part due to pipeline shortages, according to TD Economics.  

Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

 In recent years, the price for oil benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) has hovered between $18-$20 lower than West Texas Intermediate (WTI) “to reflect these hurdles,” analyst Marc Ercolao wrote in March 

“That spread should narrow as a result of the Trans Mountain completion,” he wrote. 

“Looking forward, WCS prices could conservatively close the spread by $3–4/barrel later this year, which will incentivize production and support industry profitability.”  

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office has said that an increase of US$5 per barrel for Canadian heavy oil would add $6 billion to Canada’s economy over the course of one year. 

The Trans Mountain Expansion will leave a lasting economic legacy, according to an impact assessment conducted by Ernst & Young in March 2023.  

In addition to $4.9 billion in contracts with Indigenous businesses during construction, the project leaves behind more than $650 million in benefit agreements and $1.2 billion in skills training with Indigenous communities.   

Ernst & Young found that between 2024 and 2043, the expanded Trans Mountain system will pay $3.7 billion in wages, generate $9.2 billion in GDP, and pay $2.8 billion in government taxes. 

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