LONDON (Reuters) - BP Plc's upgraded 405,000 barrel per day (bpd) Whiting refinery in Indiana will not reach full production until the first quarter of 2014, its quarterly results showed on Tuesday, an apparent slippage in the ramp-up timetable.
Problems with construction of a coking unit as part of the $4-billion revamp of the refinery were reported by Reuters in September.
The company said the project "remains on track to commission the remaining new units associated with the investment by the end of the fourth quarter," but added: "We will progressively introduce heavy feedstock once the coker is operational during the fourth quarter, and expect to achieve full run-rate capacity during the first quarter of 2014."
BP said the 100,000 bpd coker unit, crucial for a refinery wanting to process cheaper and heavier Canadian crude, will come on stream in November.
"This statement is consistent with what we have always said about the project. Completion before year-end," a U.S.-based spokesman for BP said in an email.
But analysts said that in previous briefings, BP has said Whiting would deliver a full year of profits in 2014.
"Whiting looks to have slipped slightly, with BP now talking about full capacity to be reached in Q1 2014. Prior guidance had been for 2014 as a 'full-year' of profitability for the project," Tudor Pickering Holt & Co said in a note.
Once the upgrade is complete, heavy sour Canadian crude oil will constitute 80 percent of Whiting's crude slate, BP said.
The Canadian grade now trades at a heavy discount of about $30 to the U.S. benchmark futures contract, but BP said that difference is likely to narrow as Whiting ramps up its consumption of oil sands crude.
"I think as the Whiting units start to ramp up, that 100,000 (bpd coker) comes on stream, you will see those spreads come down," Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary said during a conference call.
"One of the reasons why you see these big WTI-heavy spreads right now is because, actually, that oil isn't being soaked up yet by Whiting. As Whiting comes on stream we would expect that differential to come down quite significantly," he said.
Gilvary added that while the company will not reveal at what WTI-Canadian spreads the Whiting modernisation project was based on, the assumption was "certainly, a number well below the 30-odd dollars a barrel."
The upgraded refinery is one of the company's key profit drivers for the future, and its output is closely watched by traders for its potential impact on the price of crude oil in North America.
(Reporting by Andrew Callus in London; Additional reporting by Sabina Zawadzki in New York and David Sheppard in London; editing by Keiron Henderson)