Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
California refiners double volume of oil imported by railLynn Doan | May 3, 2014
California, country’s biggest gasoline market, more than doubled the volume of oil it received by train in the first quarter as deliveries from Canada surged.
The third-largest oil-refining state unloaded 1.41 million barrels in the first quarter, up from 693,457 a year ago, data on the state Energy Commission’s website showed last week. Canadian deliveries made up half the total and were eight times the number of shipments a year earlier. Supplies from New Mexico jumped 71 percent to 173,081 barrels. Those from North Dakota slid 34 percent to 277,046.
Projects in works
West Coast refiners including Tesoro Corp. and Valero Energy Corp. are developing projects to bring in more oil by rail from reserves across the middle of the U.S. and Canada to displace more expensive supplies. Crude production in the federal petroleum district that includes California and Alaska, has dropped every year since 2002, while drillers are extracting record volumes from shale in states including North Dakota and Texas.
The surging flows of domestic oil to California “reflect a continuing improvement in crude-by-rail receiving facilities here,” said David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates, an energy consultant.
Rail shipments still account for a small fraction of California’s oil demand. In February, the state imported more than 20 million barrels of crude from abroad, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Crude from North Dakota and Canada trades at a discount to Alaska North Slope oil, which rose 36 cents to $107.78 a barrel in early trading on Friday. Western Canada Select, a heavy, sour blend, gained 36 cents to $82.88. North Dakota’s Bakken crude also gained 36 cents to $95.28.
It costs $9 to $10.50 a barrel to send North Dakota’s Bakken oil by rail to California, according to Tesoro, the West Coast’s largest refiner.
Series of accidents
Trains are bringing more oil to California even as projects face more regulatory scrutiny after a series of accidents involving rail cars carrying fuel. The most recent was on Wednesday, when a CSX Corp. crude train derailed in Lynchburg, Va., igniting a fire that led to an evacuation. A derailment in Quebec in July killed 47 people.
The U.S. Transportation Department is studying changes to shipping oil by rail, and in February railroads agreed to slow such trains in urban areas. Canada ordered a phase-out of older tank cars last month.
Officials in Benicia said Thursday that they’re delaying until June an environmental report on a rail-offloading complex that Valero has proposed at its refinery in the North Bay city. The San Antonio company originally planned to finish the project by the end of last year.
Tesoro is six to eight weeks behind schedule in receiving regulatory permits for a rail-to-marine crude trans-loading terminal in Washington state, the company, also based in San Antonio, said Thursday. It now expects to receive the permits late this year or in early 2015, with construction taking about 12 months, Scott Spendlove, the chief financial officer, said on a conference call with analysts.
Alaskan oil output has declined every year since 2002 as the yield from existing wells shrinks.Lynn Doan is a Bloomberg writer.