(Reuters) - Enbridge Inc ENB.TO, Canada’s largest pipeline company, said on Wednesday it is still hoping for speedy regulatory approval for a planned expansion of an oil pipeline to the United States despite the prolonged delays faced by the rival Keystone XL line.
The company, which said its first-quarter operating profit rose nearly a third, is seeking an amended presidential permit for its plan to double the size of its 400,000 barrel per day Alberta Clipper pipeline, which takes oil sands crude from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.
Though the expansion scheduled to begin next year will be done through adding additional pumps and no new pipe is needed, Enbridge Chief Executive Al Monaco conceded the company’s plan may soon face the same opposition from environmental groups that has delayed permitting of TransCanada Corp’s TRP.TO Keystone XL line for more than four years.
“I won’t deny that there will likely be some focus on it as well,” Monaco said on a conference call.
“We’ll obviously wait to see how it unfolds. We’ll go through the process, as we normally do. We work closely with the (State Department) and we’ll work through it as required.”
Enbridge’s pipelines carry the bulk of the 2.5 million barrels of oil Canada sends daily to the United States. The company is looking to expand its export system to accommodate a rapid rise in production from Alberta’s tar sands and ease constraints that have lowered Canadian crude prices.
However the expansion of the oil sands is opposed by environmental groups concerned about rising greenhouse gas emissions in the northern Alberta region and who see blocking pipeline access as a way to discourage new projects.
While Keystone XL has been the focus of protests, Enbridge’s plan could soon face opposition as well.
“It’s flown under the radar of any meaningful scrutiny,” said Chad Friess, an analyst with UBS Securities. “That scrutiny is picking up now and people are starting to take notice that this is a fairly big project. So expect the rhetoric to pick up. But this is just an expansion. It would set a new precedent for the U.S. to get in the way of an expansion of existing pipe.”
Enbridge reported a 31 percent rise in first-quarter adjusted profit, driven by higher oil export volumes.
The company said adjusted earnings rose to C$488 million ($487 million), or 62 Canadian cents per share, from C$373 million ($372 million), or 49 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier.
The results were driven by strong supply from oil sands projects in Alberta. Demand for discounted Canadian crude by U.S. Midwest refiners remained high and drove an increase in long-haul barrels, the company said.
Cash provided by operating activities in the quarter was C$93 million, up 22 percent from a year earlier.
First-quarter earnings attributable to common shareholders fell to C$250 million ($249 million), or 31 Canadian cents per share, from C$261 million ($260 million) or 34 cents per share, a year earlier.
The company reiterated its full-year adjusted earnings forecast of C$1.74 to C$1.90 per share.
Enbridge is also seeking to build the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline system to carry Canadian crude to the country’s Pacific coast, which would open up high-paying Asian markets for Canadian crude oil producers.
Shares of the company were up 21 Canadian cents to C$47.76 by midday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Editing by Chris Reese