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Widening Bakken-Brent Spread Gives Boost to Rail Shipping

Bakken crude in North Dakota slipped to an eight-month low against European imports, prompting a U.S. East Coast refiner to increase crude-by-rail shipments.

Plains Marketing LP’s Williston Basin sweet oil posted price weakened to $29.51 a barrel less than Dated Brent on Nov. 1, the widest discount since March 6. It narrowed by 26 cents to $29.25 a barrel at 4:06 p.m. in New York.

The discount, which compares field prices in North Dakota to the European benchmark that many waterborne crudes are priced against, narrowed to $10.52 a barrel on July 19 as the Syncrude upgrader in Alberta reduced production during maintenance after a fire.

The discount widened as the Syncrude upgrader returned from maintenance last month. It produced 308,300 barrels of synthetic light, sweet crude a day in October, the most since April, according to the website of Canadian Oil Sands Ltd., the plant’s operating partner.

Phillips 66 is moving more crude by rail, company executives said on an Oct. 30 conference call.

“Today, rail movements for us showed, in total, are probably a little less and 100,000 barrels a day or so, but clearly we’re ramping up our capacity,” Chief Executive Officer Greg Garland said.

The company cut crude-by-rail shipments to its Bayway refinery in New Jersey to 30,000 barrels a day in August or September from 100,000 in the second quarter as the spread narrowed, Tim Taylor, the company’s executive vice president of commercial, transportation, business development and marketing, said on the same call.

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