The Newest Top-Secret Pipeline Project


In a way, you can't blame Energy Transfer Partners (NYS: ETP) for keeping a tight lid on its newest project; seemingly all summer long, there has been nothing but bad press for pipeline companies. Enbridge (NYS: ENB) has suffered from it, and now its biggest, most important project is a giant question mark. TransCanada (NYS: TRP) has paid for it as well and can't keep itself out of court right now. And so it is only through the regulatory docket at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that we even know about ETP's big plan. It is a big plan, though, so let's get to it.

Flip it and reverse it
Energy Transfer Partners wants to convert its 770-mile Trunkline pipeline from natural gas to oil. It then wants to flip the direction of the line so that it carries crude south to Texas, instead of north to Illinois.

It's a costly project, and at least one analyst has estimated the line would need to transport 150,000 barrels per day to make it worthwhile. The line has a 30-inch diameter and could theoretically transport as much as 400,000 bpd.

Before the line can be switched, ETP must get FERC to accept that ending a portion of the line's natural gas service will not negatively affect the customers it serves in Illinois and Michigan.

ETP is also racing against time and the competing projects of its peers. While there is a glut of oil at Cushing, Okla., right now, analysts expect that if all planned pipeline projects are built on schedule, there may not be a need for the Trunkline reversal.

However, ETP has several advantages over those other pipeline projects right now, one of which includes the southern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL.

The first advantage is, naturally, that Energy Transfer Partners is not TransCanada, a company with a giant bull's-eye on its back right now. Despite getting all the necessary approvals to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL, TransCanada is now facing lawsuit after lawsuit as citizens try to stop construction.

Second, ETP's pipeline already exists. It doesn't need to go through any of the environmental, engineering, or construction processes that new pipeline projects warrant, saving the company a tremendous amount of time.

And that may be the most crucial aspect to this project. ETP hopes to have the reversal complete by April 2014, which would put it ahead of the planned expansion of the Enbridge/Enterprise Products Partners (NYS: EPD) Seaway expansion.

Foolish takeaway
Energy Transfer Partners has yet to comment on the project aside from its FERC filings. The company has had a rough 2012, and its stock is down 8% year to date, but if it comes through, this project may help jumpstart a turnaround. Fools looking for a similar rebound opportunity should check out our newest free report, "The One Energy Stock You Must Own Before 2014."

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Fool contributor Aimee Duffy holds no position in any company mentioned. Check out herholdings and a short bio. If you have the energy, check out what she's keeping an eye on by following her on Twitter, where she goes by@TMFDuffy.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Enterprise Products Partners. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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