Suncor restarts operations after wildfire evacuation

Suncor Energy (TSX, NYSE:SU) on Sunday announced the "safe and staged restart" of its oilsands operations after an approaching wildfire forced the company to abandon its camps north of Fort McMurray.

Around 8,000 workers were moved out of the area on May 16 amid heavy smoke and flames from the massive wildfire that destroyed parts of Fort McMurray.

The province of Alberta lifted mandatory evacuation orders for the last of the accommodation and production sites last Monday, to be followed by inspections by forestry and health officials to ensure they are safe.

In a media release Sunday, Suncor said initial production started at its Firebag insitu operation early last week, with start-ups underway at Base Plant and Mackay River.

Suncor has moved over 4,000 employees and contractors back into the region, including Fort Hills workers, and anticipates that over the coming week it will move approximately 3,500 additional people to support its return to operations.

There has been no damage to Suncor's assets and all sites have enhanced fire mitigation and protection. Additionally, cooler weather and several days of precipitation have contributed to improved conditions in the region.

Critical third-party pipeline and power infrastructure required to support the start-up have been restored. Services and accommodations for employees and contractors have been established following approval for occupation of our lodges from Alberta Health Services on May 27, 2016.

Canada's largest oil sands company also said that Syncrude, another major producer operating in the Wood Buffalo area, is in the process of a return to operations. Suncor owns 12 percent of Syncrude.

According to CBC about 2,300 firefighters are still battling the blaze, which remains uncontained and covers almost 580,000 hectares.

About a million barrels of oil per day, or 40 percent of Alberta daily oil sands production, were shut in due to the wildfire. Along with Suncor and Syncrude, Shell Canada closed its Muskeg River and Jackpine mines, ConocoPhillips Canada shut down its Surmont project and Nexen Energy evacuated its Long Lake facility.

On May 10th Shell re-opened its Albian Sands operations, including Muskeg River and Jackpine, after a 7-day closure.