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CALGARY, A.B. – Enbridge Inc. is working with shippers to optimize its Mainline pipeline system in a bid to boost throughput by 50,000 to 100,000 barrels per day.

Chief executive Al Monaco said Friday that although its Liquids Mainline System, the largest export option for western Canadian producers, was full and hit a record this quarter, storage levels in Alberta remain “stubbornly high.”

“Given that and given Line 3 isn’t expected to be in service now until 2020, we will continue to focus on optimizing our system, and working with shippers on ways to add 50 to 100,000 barrels per day of throughput,” he said on a conference call to discuss its latest earnings.

Permitting issues in the U.S. have delayed Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement pipeline project until the second half of 2020, a year later than expected. The Line 3 project is expected to add 370,000 barrels per day of export capacity of Canadian crude.

Pipeline capacity has been a key issue for Canadian oilsands producers as they have struggled to ship their product to market and looked to alternatives such as shipping by rail.

The Alberta government introduced mandatory production curtailments this year after the discount on bitumen-blend Western Canadian Select oil prices hit record levels last fall.

Monaco’s comments came as the pipeline giant’s latest earnings topped expectations with a first-quarter profit of $1.89 billion.

The Calgary-based pipeline company said the profit amounted to 94 cents per share for the quarter ended March 31. The result was up from $445 million or 26 cents per share a year ago when the company was hit by a number of one-time charges.

On an adjusted basis, Enbridge says it earned $1.64 billion or 81 cents per share in its most recent quarter, up from $1.38 billion or 82 cents per share a year ago when it had fewer shares outstanding.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 72 cents per share for the quarter, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Monaco said Friday that Enbridge’s systems were running well and near capacity.

In addition to the record throughput on its Mainline, Enbridge’s gas transmission systems were also in high demand given the colder weather in some of the company’s franchise areas this winter, Monaco said.

“We’re off to a great start this year, with record operating and financial results across all of our systems.”

Enbridge pipelines handle about 62 per cent of Canada’s exports of crude oil into the U.S. and move about 18 per cent of all natural gas consumed in the U.S.

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