(Adds details on earnings, CEO comment)
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Suncor Energy Inc , Canada's second-largest energy producer, reported a higher-than-expected third-quarter profit on Wednesday due to record production and strong refinery output.
The Calgary-based company reported net earnings of C$1.289 billion ($1.01 billion), or 78 Canadian cents per share, in the three months ended Sept. 30. In the year-prior quarter net earnings were C$392 million, or 24 Canadian cents per share.
Suncor's operating profit, which excludes one-time items, was C$867 million, or 52 Canadian cents per share, up from C$346 million, or 21 Canadian cents per share, in the year-ago period.
Analysts had predicted earnings of 36 Canadian cents per share, according to Reuters data.
"We achieved record production at oil sands and our refineries ran at full capacity, allowing us to take advantage of a favorable downstream business environment and increasing demand for crude and refined products," Suncor's chief executive, Steve Williams, said in an earnings statement.
Suncor produced in total 739,900 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the third quarter, up from 728,100 in the same period a year earlier.
Refinery throughput was 466,800 barrels per day (bpd), compared to 465,600 in the year-prior quarter.
In northern Alberta's oil sands, where the company has the bulk of its operations, third-quarter output was up 8 percent at 469,300 bpd while operating cash costs per barrel dropped to C$21.60, versus C$22.15 during the same period in 2016.
The 350,000 bpd Syncrude oil sands plant, of which Suncor is the majority owner, returned to full production during the quarter after volumes were cut for several months earlier in the year following a fire at the upgrading facility.
Suncor said its 190,000-bpd Fort Hills mine is still on track to produce first oil by the end of 2017 and was 95 percent complete at the end of the third quarter.
The earnings release made no mention of a commercial dispute with Total SA, another partner in Fort Hills. Suncor will hold a conference call for analysts on Thursday morning in which questions about that dispute are likely to arise.
Suncor's Hebron project situated off the coast of eastern Canada is also on schedule to start producing oil by year-end after drilling started in the third quarter.
$1 = 1.2800 Canadian dollars Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler