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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO) said on Tuesday it will decide early next year on whether to go ahead with a pipeline to carry up to one million barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta's oil sands to refineries in Eastern Canada and on the U.S. East Coast.
The company, Canada's largest pipeline operator, also reported a 4 percent drop in quarterly profit on Tuesday and said its power plants in the U.S. Northeast, including the 2,480-megawatt Ravenswood plant in the New York borough of Queens, were undamaged by Hurricane Sandy.
"The vast majority of our assets in New York and New England continued to operate through the storm," Alex Pourbaix, head of the company's energy division, said on a conference call.
TransCanada is looking to expand the reach of its pipeline network, and as well as studying the eastbound oil line it is proposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to carry Alberta tar sands crude to Gulf of Mexico refineries.
The East Coast line would take crude oil from the oil sands and the Bakken shale oil region of North Dakota, Montana and southern Saskatchewan to eastern refineries that now rely on expensive imported crude as a feedstock.
The line, which the company calls the Mainline Conversion Project, would see an under-used cross-Canada natural gas pipeline converted to oil use and a new pipe built to extend its reach.
Russ Girling, TransCanada's chief executive, said the line could carry 500,000 to one million barrels a day of synthetic crude from the oil sands and light sweet crude from North Dakota's Bakken field to eastern refineries, few of which are configured to process the tar-like bitumen and heavier crudes that are Western Canada's primary oil product.
An end-point for the line will be determined after the company consults with shippers to gauge interest in the project, which could also fill tankers to take crude to refineries overseas.
"The East Coast of Canada is an obvious market, the East Coast of the United States is an obvious market, but certainly (also) Europe and some of the Asian markets that can be accessed economically," Girling said. "Those would be dependent upon whether or not those customers ... have an interest in buying Canadian crude.
A final decision on whether to go ahead with the line will be made early next year, Girling said.
The company said its net income fell to C$369 million ($369.2 million), or 52 Canadian cents per share, in the third quarter, from C$384 million, or 55 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier.
Comparable earnings, which exclude most one-time items, fell 16 percent to C$349 million, or 50 Canadian cents a share.
Revenue fell 4 percent to C$2.13 billion.
Revenue for Canadian Mainline, a 14,101 km (8,743 mile) natural gas pipeline, fell 6 percent to C$247 million in the quarter.
TransCanada said it expects to complete projects worth C$13 billion, including Keystone XL and the Gulf Coast leg of the XL project, within the next three years.
Construction on the Gulf Coast XL segment, running from the Cushing, Oklahoma, storage hub to Houston, is under way and TransCanada expects to complete work by late 2013. The line will carry and initial 700,000 barrels a day, with an ultimate capacity of 830,000 bpd.
TransCanada shares closed 4 Canadian cents lower at C$44.94 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Krithika Krishnamurthy in Bangalore; Editing by Sreejiraj Eluvangal, Sriraj Kalluvila, Alden Bentley; and Peter Galloway