Canadian Oil Sands profit tumbles with oil price

Canadian Oil Sands Trust (COS_u.TO), which holds the biggest stake in the world’s No. 1 oil sands producer, said Wednesday its quarterly profit dropped 86 percent due to skidding oil prices and difficulties mining enough ore to run processing plants full out.

The trust, which has a 36.7 percent share of the Syncrude Canada Ltd joint venture, said net income fell to C$43 million ($36 million), or 9 Canadian cents a trust unit, from C$298 million, or 62 Canadian cents a unit, in the first quarter of 2008.

The profit beat the average analyst estimate of 3 Canadian cents per unit, as compiled by Reuters Estimates.

Cash from operating activities fell 89 percent to C$50 million, or 10 Canadian cents a unit, from C$441 million, or 92 Canadian cents a unit. Operating costs per barrel rose to C$38.78 from C$35.93.

Syncrude’s oil production rose 2.6 percent to 274,000 barrels of synthetic crude a day from 267,000.

Unplanned maintenance and constraints on bitumen supply at the sprawling northern Alberta site held back output in the quarter, Canadian Oil Sands said.

Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Marcel Coutu said the limitations on supply were the result of insufficient numbers of trucks and shovels to keep the oil-bearing ore exposed and allow heavy-crude upgrading plants to run full out.

“That is partly a function of the upgrader working better than it has and the higher demand on ore, and our inability to actually move the overburden at the same find of rate,” Coutu told reporters after than annual meeting.

“That’s the reason we’re increasing the amount of mining equipment in the mines to get that rebalanced.”

The earth above the oil sands, called overburden, is cleared away for Syncrude’s open-pit mining.

The upgraders turn the bitumen from the oil sands into refinery-ready light oil.

Syncrude’s net realized price was C$55.32 a barrel down by almost half from the first quarter of 2008, when it sold its output for more than C$100 a barrel.

Canadian Oil Sands units rose C$1.25, or 5 percent, to C$26.30 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.