(Adds comment from board member)
By Ethan Lou
CALGARY, Alberta, May 5 (Reuters) - Lower oil prices and alternative export routes are complicating negotiations for shipper commitment for TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline project, and the company does not have a firm deadline for concluding the talks, Chief Executive Russell Girling said on Friday.
Speaking at a shareholders meeting after the release of better-than-expected quarterly profits, Girling said while producers are still supportive, they have less money.
“A lot of water has gone under the bridge over the last seven or eight years since we’ve proposed that project,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration approved Keystone XL in March. The expansion increases the capacity of the current Keystone system from Canada’s oil-producing Alberta province to the Gulf of Mexico.
Girling said the project may cost less than the $7 billion previously forecast due to the current downturn for the sector.
A future lowering of U.S. corporate taxes, as proposed by Trump, would benefit TransCanada, Canada’s No. 2 pipeline operator, as the company has substantial business in the United States, Girling said.
He said such a reduction might free up cash for the company to pursue new projects.
The Trump administration has also threatened changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which could affect the energy sector as Canada exports nearly all of its oil south.
TransCanada board member Derek Burney, directly involved with former NAFTA talks and informally advising the current government on the issue, said the sector should not worry as it is unclear what Trump wants and Canada will be firm on negotiations.
Earnings from TransCanada’s U.S. natural gas pipelines more than doubled the past quarter, helped by its acquisition of Columbia Pipeline Group Inc last year for about $13 billion.
Profit from its Mexico natural gas pipelines rose about 162 percent to C$118 million ($86.5 million).
The company’s net profit attributable to shareholders rose to C$643 million, or 74 Canadian cents per share, in the first quarter ended March 31 from C$252 million, or 36 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier.
The quarter included about C$48 million in charges, mainly related to the acquisition of Columbia Pipeline Group. The year-ago quarter included charges of about C$211 million, mainly related to the termination of Alberta power purchase agreements.
Excluding items, the company earned 81 Canadian cents per share, beating analysts’ average estimate of 74 Canadian cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. ($1 = 1.3775 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Ethan Lou in Calgary, Alberta, Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Frances Kerry)