ONEOK Partners, L.P. Earnings Call Nuggets: Transportation Capacity, Bakken Express

On Wednesday, ONEOK Partners, L.P. (NYSE:OKS) reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Transportation Capacity

John Tysseland – Citigroup: Can you discuss the re-contracting environment on your Mid-Con-to-Belvieu NGL transportation capacity. I guess on the existing capacity, as those current contracts expire. Clearly, the optimization is benefiting, but are customers willing to sign some long-term firm agreements for their existing capacity or is the competition from, I guess, some of the newer build projects keeping customers on the side-lines in short-term?

A Closer Look: ONEOK Earnings Cheat Sheet>>

Pierce H. Norton – EVP and COO: John, this is Pierce. I’ll take that question. The short answer is, yes. What we’ve seen is that part of our optimization in the first quarter came about because we actually got the Arbuckle expansion into service sooner than we expected, and the laterals that feed to that are now being tied. Long-term, those contracts are in place, they are fixed fee and as those new projects have now come into feed Arbuckle then those volumes will be fee-based volumes and will slowly diminish the amount of optimization opportunity that we have.

John Tysseland – Citigroup: So, throughout the rest the year, should we expect that some of those optimization volumes kind of decrease as those fee-based volumes increased, kind of, like what we thought was going to happen at the beginning of the year, is that fair?

Pierce H. Norton – EVP and COO: Yes, they will.

Terry K. Spencer – President: John, this is Terry. The only thing I would add to Pierce’s comment is that the contracting is going very well and as you probably recall from our discussions in previous calls that we are contracting with these customers under these long-term contracts and giving those who need and desire that access to Belvieu, we’re contracting them at higher rates. So, those rates or bundled services will get them to Belvieu and what will happen is we are replacing that capacity used for optimization with this fee-based business and that’s going very well.

John Tysseland – Citigroup: Secondarily, I guess, when you think about the Bakken crude line project. Clearly, you have good relationships with the producers in the basin given your processing plant investments up there. So, do you envision this project just as a start of the new strategy in the crude business and if so where else do you think ONEOK can compete effectively and would you look at acquisitions to jumpstart this kind of – this piece of your business?

Terry K. Spencer – President: John, as I indicated at the beginning, the crude oil opportunity fits us very well because we are able to take advantage of the capabilities we already have in place, the assets we already have in place, the relationships we have in place. So, building this particular crude oil pipeline makes sense for us as opposed to, let’s say, building a crude oil pipeline on the East Coast and West Coast. I think, obviously, what has followed for us on the NGL side may also have the potential to follow on the crude oil side, i.e. secondary or third order affects where we can serve the market and be consistent with our vision. So, short answer is, yeah, I mean, it’s going to create more opportunities.

Bakken Express

Carl Kirst – BMO Capital: I just wanted to clarify something that Terry said on the Bakken Express, if I could. I apologize, Terry, did you say that – you thought that you guys would be in a position that even with kind of a binding open season coming later in the fall, that you’d be in a position to have all of that pipeline capacity committed, meaning the 200,000 or is it getting to that minimum level to make it economically viable?

Pierce H. Norton – EVP and COO: Absolutely, we absolutely believe that and expect to be contracted for all of that capacity within the next couple of months, based upon the way discussions are going at the moment. Once you have that in place, then we will move forward with this open season process to ensure that all possible customers who want capacity on this pipeline have the opportunity to bid on it.

Carl Kirst – BMO Capital: That’s what I was trying to get to. So, it’s almost as if, the way you’re envisioning it now is, the open season is really kind of almost more with – again, based on where discussions are today, is almost upside or upsizing the 200,000 rather than the base volumes. Is that fair?

Pierce H. Norton – EVP and COO: Absolutely, I mean even as this project – as we continue to have discussions with producers, we have more potential customers coming out of the woodwork, we would expect even more to come out of the woodwork, and potential opportunities, not just upstream but downstream as well to come out of the woodwork as we move through that open season process.

Carl Kirst – BMO Capital: Last question on that, if I could. You had mentioned the return metric of the same 5 to 7 times. Is that something that is necessitated by achieving market-based rates on the pipeline or where that’s not required?

John W. Gibson – Chairman, President and CEO: I’m not sure I follow your question. The 5 to 7 times reflects a rate that we believe the market will bear, okay, just based upon our current assessment of the market, and also relative to competitive alternatives when you apply the volumes and I’m not going to disclose to you what volumes we have in our economic, you come up with that return in that five to seven times. Does that help you?

Carl Kirst – BMO Capital: Yes it does. Thank you.