By Ben Lefebvre
Marathon Petroleum Corp. (>> Marathon Petroleum Corp) is exploring the possibility of reversing a major pipeline to bring oil from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast refining belt, a company executive said Tuesday.
Changing direction of the 1.2 million barrel-a-day Capline pipeline would be the second major pipeline reversal that could transport a glut of crude oil in the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, where it can be refined into petroleum products like gasoline or easily transported elsewhere.
Enbridge Inc. (ENB) and Enterprise Products Partners (>> Enterprise Products Partners L.P.) plan to reverse the 150,000 barrel-a-day Seaway pipeline within a month and expand its capacity to 400,000 barrels a day by 2013.
Marathon is part owner of Capline, which currently brings oil from Louisiana to Illinois. The pipeline has been little utilized as crude from Canadian oil sands and U.S. Midwest shale formations pour into the oil storage hub in Cushing, Okla., where there are few ways to move the crude out of the region.
Plains All American Pipeline (PAA) is the majority owner, while Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) operates the 630-mile pipeline.
"We are evaluating it now," said Mike Palmer, Marathon Petroleum's senior vice president of supply, distribution and planning, about a possible Capline reversal. He spoke in a conference call with investors. "We're looking into alternatives to that asset as well as other assets."
A Plains All American representative was not immediately available. A Shell spokeswoman referred questions to the Capline owners.
Marathon Chief Executive Gary Heminger sounded more cautious about reversing Capline, which brings oil to the company's 212,000 barrel-a-day refinery in Kentucky. The Midwest would still need a source of Gulf Coast crude to feed refineries, Heminger said.
"You would need to ensure that you have a large pipeline that can still move that type of supply," Heminger said. "Maybe not a million barrels per day, but still move a significant amount of supply south to north if needed."
But with Capline running at such low rates, it might make more sense to use it to ship heavy crude from Canada or light, sweet crude from the U.S. Midwest to Gulf Coast refiners, said Tim Evans, energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective.
"It might make some sense economically, particularly if the pipeline is currently handling low volumes," Evans said.
-By Ben Lefebvre, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-547-9201; [email protected]