Dozens of Enbridge oil shippers wade into dispute over proposed pipeline overhaul

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - More than two dozen oil companies wrote to Canada's energy regulator on Thursday to support or oppose it intervening in Enbridge Inc's ENB.TO contentious proposal to overhaul shipping contracts on the Mainline pipeline network.

FILE PHOTO: The Enbridge Tower is pictured on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on August 4, 2012. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber/File Photo/File Photo

The Mainline is North America’s largest pipeline system, shipping around 3 million barrels per day of crude from western Canada to the U.S. Midwest. Enbridge currently allocates capacity based on monthly nominations from shippers, but is proposing to switch to long-term fixed-volume contracts.

The company launched a two-month open season to solicit bids for space on Aug. 2. It faces stiff opposition from many Canadian producers, who say the tolls are unfair and the changes will limit their access to markets.

After complaints from companies, including Suncor Energy SU.TO and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd CNQ.TO, the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) said it would hold a fast-track process to gather comment and gave interested parties a deadline of 12 p.m. local time on Thursday.

Most responses came from parties in favor of the regulator intervening before the end of the open season. They included MEG Energy Corp MEG.TO, the Saskatchewan government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

The CER is requesting comment on whether it should consider the terms and tolls offered by Enbridge before - instead of after - the end of the open season, and whether the open season should be delayed.

CAPP underlined the importance of the Mainline system to Canadian producers.

“The conversion of the Mainline... is no small thing and it should perhaps be no surprise and certainly no shame to anyone if the attempt to achieve the conversion by confidential negotiations and an open season turned out to be insufficient to the magnitude of the task,” Nick Schultz, CAPP’s vice president of pipeline regulation, said in a letter.

Enbridge has been negotiating with shippers since last year but the terms and tolls on offer have not been publicly disclosed. The company has until Sept. 11 to file comment with the CER and did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Companies opposed to any intervention by the CER include refiners Marathon Petroleum Corp MPC.N and Motiva Enterprises MOTIV.UL.

Oil sands producers Cenovus Energy CVE.TO and Imperial Oil IMO.TO, which is majority-owned by ExxonMobil Corp XOM.N, also supported the Mainline changes.

“Cenovus is in favor of contract carriage or firm service on the Enbridge Mainline. This will provide volume certainty for shippers to downstream markets,” CEO Alex Pourbaix wrote.

Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Dan Grebler