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U.S. shale shippers will pay surcharge for Trump steel tariffs

By Collin Eaton
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U.S. shale shippers will pay surcharge for Trump steel tariffs

FILE PHOTO: A pump jack operates in the Permian Basin oil and natural gas production area near Odessa

By Collin Eaton

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Plains All American Pipeline LP <PAA.N> said on Friday it will tack on a fee for users of a new oil pipeline to pay for the cost of the Trump administration's tariffs on imported steel, with analysts and traders calling it the first U.S. energy pipeline operator to do so.

In addition to the steel levies announced last year, President Donald Trump on Thursday said he plans to expand U.S. tariffs to $300 billion in Chinese imports, escalating a trade dispute that has increased costs for American consumers of everything from steel to electronics to shoes.

Houston-based Plains will begin charging shippers a 5 cents per barrel fee on its 670,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Cactus II pipeline next April to offset higher construction costs from "governmental regulation and tariffs," according to a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Plains last year estimated the 25% steel tariff would add $40 million to its costs for the $1.1 billion pipeline, which runs 550 miles (885 km) from the Permian basin of West Texas and New Mexico, the top U.S. shale field, to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Trump administration last year imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum to shield U.S. producers from overseas competition and protect jobs. It was one in a series of tariffs imposed by Trump since becoming president in 2017.

"This is an example of how harmful trade policies such as steel tariffs and quotas are hurting the U.S. energy industry, economy, and potentially energy consumers," said Natalia Sharova, a spokeswoman for the trade group American Petroleum Institute.

Two other new pipelines could also raise their prices if Plains' surcharge sticks, three analysts said. They pointed to Kinder Morgan Inc's <KMI.N> Gulf Coast Express pipeline and a EPIC Midstream's pipeline, which were constructed after the steel tariffs were levied.

"There's certainly a risk of them passing on inflationary costs," said Kendrick Rhea, an analyst at pipeline industry researcher East Daley Capital.

"This is an issue for the next go-around of pipelines," added Matthew Blair, an analyst at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Kinder Morgan Inc <KMI.N> declined to comment. EPIC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


'UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES'

Plains Chief Executive Officer Willie Chiang last year told a congressional hearing that the tariffs on critical energy projects could have "significant unintended consequences that could undermine important progress towards realizing American energy independence, strengthening national security and improving the balance of trade."

The U.S. Commerce Department rejected Plains' two initial requests for a waiver, and the company has filed a third request, said Brad Leone, a Plains spokesman. He did not say how much the surcharge would raise.

"It's making it clear the steel sanctions are increasing costs," Sandy Fielden, an analyst at financial services firm Morningstar, said of the company's new fee. "The shipper's going to have to pay, come what may."

Plains disclosed spot tariff rates on the new pipeline from $4.75 to $5.60 per barrel, according to Friday's regulatory filing.

The tariff went into effect on Friday.

It is one of three new pipelines beginning service over the next few months and is expected to relieve a crude bottleneck that has weighed on regional oil prices for more than a year.

Permian crude differentials rallied on market speculation that the Cactus II pipeline will begin service in August, traders said.

West Texas Intermediate crude at Midland <WTC-WTM> for delivery in September traded at a 55-cents-per-barrel discount to U.S. crude futures, the strongest level since mid-July and up from around a $1.10 a barrel on Thursday, traders said.

WTI Midland for delivery in the fourth quarter traded at a 35-cents premium, up 20 cents, traders said.

Another pipeline operator, EPIC Midstream Holdings LP, recently began filling a new 400,000 bpd crude pipeline from the Permian and expects to begin making deliveries this quarter, President Brian Freed said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.


(Reporting by Collin Eaton in Houston and Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and David Gregorio)