February 9, 2016 / 10:56 PM / a year ago

CANADA CRUDE-Synthetic premium rises, WCS sinks below $15/bbl

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* March synthetic trades at $2.35/bbl above WTI

* March WCS trades at $13.75/bbl below WTI

CALGARY, Alberta, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The premium on Canadian synthetic crude hit its highest in eight months on Tuesday as supply shortages in the oil sands loomed, while the outright price of benchmark heavy crude tumbled back below $15 a barrel.

Light synthetic crude from the oil sands for March delivery strengthened to $2.35 per barrel above the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, according to Shorcan Energy brokers, up from a premium of $1.80 a barrel on Monday.

Traders in Calgary said the gains were due to upcoming maintenance at oil sands plants in northern Alberta, including a major turnaround on one of Suncor Energy's two upgraders, which process mined bitumen into refinery-ready synthetic crude.

Suncor's upgraders have a combined capacity of about 350,000 barrels per day.

Nexen Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of China's CNOOC , has also shut down synthetic crude production at its 50,000 bpd Long Lake facility following an explosion in mid-January that killed two employees.

Alberta regulators are investing the cause of the blast and there is no timeline for when Long Lake production will resume.

Canada's oil sands plants have a busy maintenance schedule planned for spring, meaning prices are likely to gain some support over the next couple of months.

Last week, MEG Energy said it is bringing forward a planned turnaround at its 80,000 bpd Christina Lake oil sands project because of the low oil price environment, tightening supply of heavy barrels.

Western Canada Select heavy blend crude for March delivery last traded at $13.75 per barrel below WTI, little moved from Monday's settlement of $13.70 per barrel below the benchmark.

U.S. crude futures dived 6 percent on concerns about weak global demand however, to settle at $27.94 a barrel.

That put the outright price of Canadian crude at around $14.19 a barrel, close to January's record low of $13.25. (Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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