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Bakken Crude to Continue to Flow West, Tesoro CEO Says

Even with price differentials tightening, Bakken crude oil from North Dakota is going to continue to be attractive to West Coast refineries, the CEO of San Antonio-based Tesoro Corp. said Thursday during earnings conference calls for the refiner and midstream logistics operator.

Tesoro's Greg Goff talked bullishly about both the Bakken and natural gas midstream operations in the Rockies for Tesoro Logistics LP (TLLP), which separately reported substantially increased quarter-over-quarter profits for all of its business segments, including refining, logistics, and wholesale/retail marketing operations.

"As we look out over time, even in a low-price environment, we definitely see economic value in the ability to move Bakken crude to the West Coast," Goff said, noting Tesoro's continuing ability to improve its yields from refinery operations in Washington state and other West Coast locations.

Goff said there are a lot of pressures on distribution prices these days, driving down the rail costs for moving Bakken supplies west. "It will continue to allow [the Bakken supplies] to maintain their competitiveness, in our view."

Rail economics are going to continue to be favorable for West Coast Bakken shipments, Goff reiterated on both conference calls. "There are [downward] pressures across the whole distribution system from loading/unloading, rail rates and rail car costs, and the costs are going to come down pretty significantly over time," Goff said. "This will improve the competitiveness, specifically of moving Bakken crude into the West Coast."

During the conference calls, Goff was asked several times about merger and acquisition (M&A) opportunities, and he confirmed that Tesoro is looking widely in all segments of its business, but he drew short of giving any specifics. "We are looking at an unbelievable number of things to strengthen our business position no matter where it falls in the value chain," he said, emphasizing Tesoro sees many more opportunities in a low commodity price environment that it did at $100/bbl oil.

Goff agreed that today's environment has created "a very opportunistic market." He cautioned that the challenge is to figure out which opportunities would be the best fit over the long haul for a given company and strategy, but Bakken oil/gas and Rockies natural gas are both areas where Tesoro and TLLP intend to grow.

As part of the earnings report on TLLP, Goff announced a new Bakken crude gathering system project, Charging Eagle, that TLLP intends to complete next year. He still expects another gathering system, Connolly, to be completed before the end of this year "ahead of schedule and under budget."

Under an integrated strategy, from upstream through retail marketing, Tesoro sees eventual opportunities in the Bakken for natural gas too, Goff said in response to an analyst's question.

"The right acreage with the right producer with the right economic profile would fit our growth strategy," he said. "We do see those opportunities and we are actively engaged in pursuit of those type of opportunities as there are producers that continue to have a strong outlook around the core that need a solid logistics operator to support their activities, and we desire to be the best up there."

For 3Q2015, Tesoro Corp. reported record net earnings of $759 million ($6.13/share), compared to $397 million ($3.05/share) for the same period last year. TLLP reported net earnings of $77 million, compared to $33 million for the same period in 2014.

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