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Canadian Natural says Trans Mountain Expansion to call for pipeline fill this fall

Canadian Natural Resources Limited's Primrose Lake oil sands project is seen near Cold Lake, Alberta

By Nia Williams

(Reuters) -The Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) project is expected to call on oil producers to start filling the pipeline as soon as this month, the president of major shipper Canadian Natural Resources Ltd said on Thursday.

The expanded pipeline will require up to 5 million barrels to fill the line before it can start shipping, Canadian Natural President Tim McKay said, a move that is expected to boost the Canadian heavy benchmark crude Western Canada Select (WCS).

"From all indications, TMX will be making a call for line fill here in the fall, August, September, October," McKay told analysts on a quarterly earnings call. "From that aspect I look at it as very positive and very constructive for Canada's oil."

Canadian Natural has committed to shipping 94,000 bpd on TMX, which is meant to start operating in the first quarter of 2024.

Once complete, TMX will ship an extra 590,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil to Canada's Pacific Coast, adding to the 300,000 bpd of existing capacity. But the project has been dogged by years of regulatory delays and a quadrupling of its budget to C$30.9 billion, and was bought by the Canadian government in 2018 to ensure it got built.

The TMX update came as Canadian Natural, the country's biggest oil and gas producer, posted a second-quarter profit that more than halved due to lower energy prices and drop in oil production.

Profits for oil and gas companies have declined from last year's bumper levels after crude prices eased from multi-year highs when Russia's invasion of Ukraine upended markets.

Canadian Natural's production in the quarter ended June 30 stood at 1.19 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), below last year's 1.21 million boepd, affected by wildfires in Western Canada and continued unplanned third-party pipeline outage, the company said.

The company reported a net income of C$1.5 billion ($1.12 billion), or C$1.32 per share, for the quarter, down from C$3.5 billion, or C$3 per share, a year earlier.

($1 = 1.3374 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Arshreet Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Shailesh Kuber and Deepa Babington)