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California 2018 crude-by-rail imports reach highest level since 2013-14: state

Houston — California crude imports by rail in 2018 rebounded from the year prior and are nearing levels not seen since the initial crude-by-rail heyday of 2013-14, according to the latest figures from the state government.

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California imported an average of 447,063 b/d in the first nine months of 2018, according to the latest figures from California Supply Analysis Office data shared Wednesday with S&P Global Platts. That is the highest level after a record high of 524,731 b/d in 2013 and 478,090 b/d in 2014.

California receives crude by rail from New Mexico, Wyoming and Canada. The surge in imports in 2018 is due to exports more than doubling from New Mexico and Canada. New Mexico's crude-by-rail to California in September was about 207,000 b/d compared with just over 80,000 b/d in January. Western Canada sent nearly 275,000 b/d in September compared with 116,000 b/d at the beginning of the year. In comparison, imports over 2018 from Wyoming, home to some of the Bakken shale formation, were essentially stable over the initial nine months at about 90,000 b/d.

Canada's oil industry has been forced to take a second look at crude by rail to alleviate what has been a glut of supply and no spare takeaway capacity. Pipelines are full and yet the production has continued to rise there, leading to record-high exports from the country to the US by rail.

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It is worth noting, however, that there is some discrepancy between California's data and figures from Canada. In May-September of 2018, California reported imports of roughly 306,000 b/d of crude from Canada on average. Canada's National Energy Board figures showed the country exported about 222,000 b/d during that time.

Though the two agencies' figures do not exactly align, it is clear Californian refiners are taking advantage of increased oil production in nearby regions as an offset to crude imported by water from outside North America.

--John-Laurent Tronche,

--Edited by Pankti Mehta,