Enbridge Inc. shares leaped 7 per cent Friday, a day after regulators approved the company’s Line 3 pipeline rebuild in a major boost to chief executive officer Al Monaco’s growth plan.
Calgary-based Enbridge on Thursday secured approval for the $9-billion pipeline replacement in a unanimous decision by Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission that also largely endorsed the company’s preferred route.
The approval, although opposed by Indigenous groups and environmentalists in the state, removes a cloud that had darkened Enbridge’s prospects and weighed heavily on the shares for much of this year.
Line 3 is by far the biggest and most expensive in Enbridge’s $22-billion project backlog, but its uncertain fate had thrown into doubt the company’s ability to generate cash and sustain rising dividend payments.
Investors had also fretted about the company’s complex corporate structure and debt levels that swelled following its $37-billion takeover of Spectra Energy in 2017.
Now, those fears are starting to ebb, said Manash Goswami, a Toronto-based portfolio manager at First Asset Management, which owns the stock.
Enbridge agreed earlier this year to buy out four of its publicly listed subsidiaries in an $11.4-billion restructuring. The company has also notched $3.2-billion in asset sales, eclipsing its target for the year and easing concerns about debt, he said.
The stock has climbed about 25 per cent from a nadir hit only two months ago.
“It’s a really big deal. When you think about where the stock was in April, it was trading below $38. And there were really three things that people were talking about, the first being this project and whether or not it will get approved,” Mr. Goswami said. “This is the last thing we wanted to see fall in line.”
Approval in Minnesota was the last major regulatory hurdle for Line 3 following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s signoff for the Canadian leg of the pipeline in late 2016.
The project involves replacing a badly corroded 1,660-kilometre pipeline that ferries crude from Hadisty, Alta., to Superior, Wis.; flows have been curtailed because of pressure restrictions imposed to limit risks of a rupture.
Enbridge says the the new pipeline would improve safety and nearly double capacity to 760,000 barrels a day, giving Minnesota refineries a steady supply of crude while easing shipping constraints that have bedeviled Alberta’s oil industry.
Peters & Co Ltd. analysts led by Tyler Reardon said in a research note the project stands to increase overall export capacity for mostly heavy oil-sands crude by roughly 10 per cent, reducing the industry’s reliance on more expensive rail.
Enbridge said Friday no one was available to discuss next steps.
In an earlier statement, the company said it had spent $3.6-billion on the project to date and that its overall cost estimate remains unchanged.
The company insists oil will flow by 2020, but several industry analysts have factored in added costs and delays owing to route modifications and the potential for protests and litigation to thwart construction.
Indigenous and environmental groups were swift to condemn the approval and vowed to appeal the decision up to the state Supreme Court.
They noted a judge had recommended against issuing a route permit, and the state’s Commerce Department had said the expanded pipeline is not needed.
Construction could precipitate a repeat of clashes that erupted in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipeline, said Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe from the White Earth reservation in Minnesota and executive director of Honor the Earth.
“I guarantee that this will be Enbridge’s most expensive pipeline,” she said by phone Friday. “Their delays have just begun.”