Canadian heavy crude prices edged higher on Wednesday, helped by stronger demand from refineries in the U.S. Midwest and increased export capacity as Alberta's first crude oil unit train terminal started ramping up shipments.
Western Canada Select heavy blend for February delivery has had a strong start in 2014 and was last trading at $19.00 per barrel below the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, according to Shorcan Energy brokers.
That compares with a settlement price of $19.20 per barrel below the benchmark on Tuesday, and was within sight of last week's five-month high of $18.55 per barrel below WTI.
BP Plc's 405,000 barrel per day Whiting, Indiana, refinery underwent a revamp last year to enable it to run up to 350,000 bpd of Canadian heavy crude and is in the process of boosting its intake.
Citgo Petroleum Corp's 174,500 bpd Lemont, Illinois, refinery, which runs on a diet of mainly Canadian crude, is also likely to restart its repaired 75,000 bpd vacuum distillation unit in the second half of January, sources said.
Energy market intelligence group Genscape reported a coker at Flint Hills Resources' 320,000 bpd Pine Bend, Minnesota, restarted on Wednesday after being shut since Jan. 13.
"The main driver (in the market) is demand from the PADD II refineries," said David Bouckhout, senior commodities strategist at TD, referring to plants in the U.S. Midwest. "There's also the increase in movements by rail so there's some more capacity there."
Canadian logistics company Canexus Corp said on Tuesday it expects to ship 30,000 bpd in February from its terminal in Bruderheim, Alberta, Canada's first crude oil unit train loading facility.
The company loaded Bruderheim's first unit train in December and expects the terminal to start operating at full capacity around 100,000 bpd of oil sands crude later this year.
Although new rail capacity is currently marginal, compared with the roughly 3 million barrels per day produced in Western Canada, more unit train terminals are scheduled to start operating this year, helping alleviate the discounts caused by pipeline congestion.
This time last year WCS was trading around $41.00 per barrel below WTI as high apportionment on pipelines left crude bottlenecked in Alberta.
Light synthetic crude from the oil sands for February last traded at $1.20 per barrel above WTI, down slightly from a settlement price of $1.75 per barrel above the benchmark on Tuesday.
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