CNRL choked back heavy oil output due to pipeline-linked low prices

CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Limited) Horizon oil sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta.
CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Limited) Horizon oil sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. says it choked back heavy oil production by about 17,000 barrels per day in the first quarter to avoid selling at low prices it blames on poor pipeline capacity out of Western Canada.

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The company says it is now gradually ramping up output from its heavy oil wells in northern Alberta as the discount being paid for Western Canadian Select grade oil has narrowed in comparison with the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate.

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Fellow Calgary-based oilsands producer Cenovus Energy Inc. last week reported it, too, had reduced heavy oil output in the first quarter for the same reason, but was bringing production back on stream.

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CNRL reported a profit of $583 million or 47 cents per diluted share, up from $245 million or 22 cents per diluted share a year ago.

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On an adjusted basis, the company says its earnings from operations amounted to $885 million or 71 cents per diluted share for the three months ended March 31, beating analyst expectations of $855 million or 66 cents. A year ago, it earned an adjusted profit from operations of $277 million or 25 cents per diluted share.

It reported record production of 1.12 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the quarter, up from 877,000 boepd in the year-earlier period.