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Enbridge Announces New Athabasca Oilsands Pipeline Expansion

by Dina O'Meara

Enbridge Inc. will be investing $185 million to expand its Athabasca oilsands pipeline in time to accommodate new volumes from Cenovus Energy's Christina Lake project, the pipeline giant said.

Protesters march through a street demonstrating against the building of an oil pipeline in the north of the province in Vancouver, British Columbia August 31, 2010. (REUTERS/Andy Clark) The announcement Thursday was the second in less than a week about projects in the northeast corner of Alberta.

The newest expansion will boost capacity of the Athabasca pipeline to 430,000 barrels per day when it comes online by the fall of 2013, Enbridge said.

"All these projects fit well with Enbridge's investment profile and further strengthen our capacity within the region, enhancing our strategic advantage," said Steve Wuori, vice-president of liquids pipelines.

Late last month the company announced the $370-million Wood Buffalo line linking Suncor Energy oilsands volumes to the pipeline's Waupisoo system to Edmonton.

Wood Buffalo would run parallel to the 540-kilometre Athabasca line, Enbridge's oilsands artery to its mainline hub in Hardistry, Alberta.

Enbridge has invested approximately $1.8 billion in the oilsands region in the past year, securing its position as a major transporter and for the company's strategy to grow 10 per cent per year.

"It's good news," said analyst Steven Paget, with FirstEnergy Capital Corp. "They are extending their regional oilsands yet again, and they are doing it because they have the common carrier, non-dedicated pipelines that can service the region."

Thursday's announcement comes as the Calgary-based company battles fallout from an oil spill into the Kalamazoo River six weeks ago, including allegations it has been pressuring affected residents to sign off on claims.

Several U.S. congressmen have launched an investigation around claims Enbridge offered incentives such as air purifiers in exchange for not suing the company. Questions were also raised about Enbridge requesting medical records.

Chief executive Pat Daniel attributed the allegations to misunderstandings, and said he would be following up on them.

Line 6B, which supplies crude oil to refiners in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest, ruptured under the Talmadge Creek near Marshall, Michigan July 26, spilling approximately 19,500 barrels of oil into the tributary.

Dozens of homes along the riverbank were voluntarily evacuated and more than 100 visits made to hospital and doctors' offices because of environmental issues after the spill.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given Enbridge until September 27 to complete the clean up operations around the river, and expects a full report by November 27.

Enbridge said it expects to pay about $6.6 million after insurance for its portion of the clean up effort. The company holds a 27 per cent interest in Enbridge Energy Partners, operator of the downed line.

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