By May 10, 2016 Read More →

Oil sands production trickles back as wildfire threat eases

Oil sands production begins, industry meets with premier

Oil sands production

Oil sands production will slowly begin as companies affected by the Fort McMurray wildfire figure out how to open supply routes open and get their staff back to the area after the entire city was evacuated earlier in the week.  National Defence Canada photo.

By Rod Nickel and Nia Williams

FORT MCMURRAY/EDMONTON, Alberta, May 10 (Reuters) – Oil sands production began to resume production on Tuesday after an out-of-control wildfire forced a shutdown a week ago, and energy executives met with province leaders who reported the town was less damaged than first feared.

The fire continued to grow on Tuesday, but it has moved far enough away from the oil sands’ sites to allow companies to begin resuming production.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc became the first company to resume its operation in the center of Canada’s oil sands region, while Enbridge Inc began inspecting its facilities and prepared plans to restart operations shuttered during the blaze.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met on Tuesday with executives from companies including Suncor Energy Inc, ConocoPhillips Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to discuss their plans.

“It’s really just about collaborating and making sure we move forward together in harmony,” Suncor Chief Executive Steve Williams told reporters in Edmonton on his way into the meeting.

About 90 percent of Fort McMurray’s buildings survived, officials said after an inspection on Monday.

But its 88,000 residents, who were hurriedly evacuated last week as flames attacked the town, will not be able to return for weeks from temporary accommodation in the provincial capital Edmonton, 380 km (235 miles) south, and elsewhere.

“These are difficult circumstances,” said Al Monaco, Enbridge CEO, in a statement. “We have a well-trained and experienced team that has developed a detailed logistical plan to enable the safe restart of our pipelines and terminals.”

Officials grappled with transportation problems for staff because the specialists who run the oilproduction sites were also among the residents displaced by the blaze.

Shell said it will fly staff in and out of the region, while Imperial Oil Ltd said its Kearl oil sands mining project will remain shut until the company worked out the logistics of moving people and materials to and from the remote site.


The blaze grew moderately on Tuesday to 229,000 hectares (560,000 acres) and spread east through terrain with no communities. It merged with another fire burning near Campbell Lake, some 50 km (30 miles) east of Fort McMurray. The closest oil projects to Fort McMurray are about 20 km (12 miles) north of the town and not in the fire’s current path.

The inspection of Fort McMurray revealed blocks of homes reduced to blackened foundations, front steps and metal barbecues. Notley said 2,400 structures had burned within the city while almost 25,000 were saved.

Officials warned it was not safe for residents to return to the town, with parts still smoldering and large areas without power, water and gas. Notley said repair crews will need weeks to make the city safe.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons he would go to Fort McMurray on Friday. Canada’s labor minister told reporters on Tuesday that the federal government would ensure that people put out of work by the blaze receive unemployment payments.

About half of Canada’s crude output, or 1 million barrels per day, was taken offline by the blaze, according to a Reuters estimate.

Canadian crude prices slipped on Tuesday, trading below the U.S. crude benchmark, as signs of resuming production eased supply concerns.

Nearly all of Fort McMurray’s residents escaped the fire safely, although two teenagers died in a car crash during the evacuation.

(Additional reporting by Ethan Lou and Allison Martell in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman)

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