CALGARY, Alberta, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Strong Canadian crude prices and loading terminal maintenance have slowed down the oil sands' crude-by-rail boom, industry players said on Monday, after government data showed crude exports by rail dipped in the second quarter of 2014.
Figures from the National Energy Board released late on Friday showed Canadian crude exports by rail fell 1.3 percent to 163,063 barrels per day in the second quarter of this year, compared with 165,254 bpd in the first quarter.
Exports in the three months to June were still up 22 percent on the same period a year earlier, but the dip belies industry predictions of breakneck growth. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has forecast that crude-by-rail loading capacity will exceed 1 million bpd by year-end.
Crude-by-rail industry sources said the shutdown of Canexus Corp's Bruderheim loading terminal near Edmonton, Alberta, had weighed on export volumes.
The facility, Canada's first unit train crude terminal that started operating last December, was shut down on June 15 to expand capacity to 70,000 bpd.
Bruderheim resumed activity on Sept. 5, according to a report from energy intelligence firm Genscape, when 24 rail cars or roughly 12,600 barrels of crude were loaded.
Tighter differentials between Canadian and U.S. benchmark crude prices in the second quarter also made shipping crude by rail to markets in the United States less profitable for producers and midstream companies.
Western Canada Select heavy blend averaged around $20 per barrel below U.S. benchmark futures in the second quarter but shipping crude to the Gulf Coast by manifest trains hauling mixed cargo costs $17 to $21 dollars per barrel.
Using mile-long unit trains hauling only tanker cars to ship crude costs $14 to $17 per barrel and offers better arbitrage.
Although crude-by-rail exports in the third quarter of 2014 will also suffer from the Canexus shutdown, the slowdown is likely to be temporary. Half a dozen new unit train terminals are being built in Western Canada and Gibson Energy Inc started loading crude at its new Hardisty, Alberta, facility in June.
"A lot of the growth in rail volumes over the next couple of years will be primarily contracted volumes so less (price) spread-sensitive," said Steven Hansen, equity analyst with Raymond James.
"I would expect a rise in volumes in the back half of the year with Canexus back up and running and the Hardisty terminal ramping up pretty aggressively." (editing by Gunna Dickson)