By Ethan Lou
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's move this week to revive the Keystone XL oil pipeline marked a major step under his "America First" energy plan to boost U.S. drillers and create new U.S. jobs. But the project's biggest winners may be Canadian.
If built, TransCanada’s Keystone XL from Alberta to Nebraska would yield about $2.4 billion (C$3.2 billion) a year for Canada, split between government revenues, shareholder profits and re-investment into the still-recovering Canadian oil patch, according to a Conference Board of Canada research note prepared for Reuters on Thursday.
That’s because the 800,000 barrels-per-day (bdp) line would provide cheaper shipping and a new outlet for the country’s vast but landlocked oil sands reserves, giving them increased access to the stronger U.S. market. Canadian producers could likely command around $2 more per barrel, analysts and investors said.
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For the United States, where environmental opposition to the pipeline had led to its temporary demise under former President Barack Obama, there are also economic advantages. But it is unclear how they compare to Canada’s.
Trump has said the project would create 28,000 jobs in the United States and pledged to use American steel for the pipe.
But a 2014 State Department study predicted just 3,900 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs. And steelmakers and analysts say TransCanada’s stringent raw materials requirements may disqualify most U.S.-based manufacturers.
Trump's invitation for TransCanada to reapply for Keystone XL, in an executive order signed on Tuesday, was welcomed by TransCanada shareholders, the Canadian energy industry and both the opposition Conservatives and governing Liberals.
"This pipeline provides a more efficient means to supply our customers in the U.S.," said Sneh Seetal, spokeswoman for Suncor Energy Inc <SU.TO>, Canada's largest oil and gas company.
Officials at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd <CNQ.TO> and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said in separate statements that such pipelines ensure "full value" for Canadian crude.
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It is yet unclear how the regulatory process in the United States will unfold. TransCanada said on Thursday it has resubmitted its application for Keystone XL. If approved, analysts estimate it would take two to three years to come online.
“Connecting our resources, which are the third-largest oil resources in the world to the largest heavy-oil refining complex in the Gulf Coast has a lot of benefits,” said Tim McMillan, the head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
“We can be more efficient, more effective, make investments in Canada rank higher on the priority list,” he said.
That would be welcome news for the Alberta oil sands sector still reeling from a two-year slump in oil prices that cost it more than 35,000 jobs in 2015 and the effects of wildfires last year that shut in production and sapped $1 billion in revenues.
CAPP last year estimated the industry's capital spending declined $50 billion since 2014, the largest two-year decline since it started tracking the figure in 1947.
U.S. refineries that process with heavy oil such as that from Canada would also benefit, according to Wood Mackenzie analyst Afolabi Ogunnaike, who said the facilities currently depend heavily on supply from less-reliable producers Venezuela and Mexico.
A source familiar with operations at Valero Energy Corp’s <VLO.N> 335,000 bpd Port Arthur, Texas, refinery said the company completed work last year to process greater amounts of heavy crude, anticipating an inflow of Canadian oil. Valero did not reply to a request for comment.
A Marathon Petroleum Corp <MPC.N> spokesman said Keystone XL will help bring the reliable supply of crude it needs.
Canada’s oil industry makes up one-sixth of the nation’s economy, but it is plagued by transport constraints and relatively high cost of production.
Canadian pipeline export capacity is currently about 4 million bpd, and producers are matching that with 4 million bpd of export-ready output, according to CAPP data. But supply available for export is expected to grow to 5.5 million bpd by 2030, and the industry wants more pipeline to accommodate it.
The Canadian government approved two pipeline projects late last year, Kinder Morgan's <KMI.N> Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge's <ENB.TO> Line 3, that are intended to further help the industry access higher-priced markets.
Without pipelines, shippers would increasingly need to export by rail, a more expensive option that would eventually lower the price of their product even further to about $18 to $20 below the U.S. benchmark, Wood Mackenzie’s Ogunnaike said.
Royal Bank of Canada analysts said in a note that Trump’s support for the pipeline "is not a silver bullet for Canadian crudes in the near term."
But they added "the longer-term lookout for Canadian crudes is brighter today than it was a few short months ago."
For graphic on Keystone Pipeline click: http://tmsnrt.rs/2jclJao
(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Erwin Seba in Houston, Texas, Catherine Ngai in New York and John Tilak in Toronto; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Cynthia Osterman)