They're still flogging the line about how they must get Athabasca dilbit to
"tidewater" but it's calculated, industry spin or, as any Alberta cattle rancher would call it, "bullshit."
Western Canadian Select (WCS) -- the key Canadian benchmark for heavy oil -- trades at a discount to other benchmarks such as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the primary benchmark for U.S. Gulf Coast and Midwest oil. The two key factors are quality and geography: WCS trades for less than WTI because it is lower quality crude that is more expensive to refine, and it must travel longer distances to refineries.
...for a period in 2013 to 2014, there was a bottleneck in the U.S. Midwest to the Gulf Coast and WCS was trading at a deeper discount -- an average of $24 a barrel, with daily peaks that surpassed $40. However, since that time, enough new pipeline capacity has come online in the U.S. to alleviate the bottleneck, and "effectively eliminate the market-driven portion of the price differential."
...In fact, there is now surplus capacity that, according to theInternational Energy Agency, would allow for additional Canadian exports to Asia without the construction of either Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion, Enbridge's Northern Gateway or TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. Instead, they could follow existing routes including pipelines to Oklahoma and the existing Trans Mountain line to access Asian and OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) markets.
Accessing Asian and European markets doesn't address the quality and geography discounts that WCS currently faces. In fact, those discounts may be even steeper in Europe and Asia, which are a lot farther from Canada than Oklahoma. One of the impacts of the U.S. lifting its export ban was that the WTI benchmark and European Brent Crude benchmark became much more aligned, meaning that the "world price" for oil (Brent) is more or less the same as WTI. This supports the conclusion that Canada is already getting the best price for its oil with current pipeline capacity.