Wildfire hitting Canada’s oil sands heart gets closer to major plants
A massive wildfire raging through the northern part of Canada’s Alberta has swelled in size and surged north of Fort McMurray, destroying an evacuated oil sands camp on Tuesday and it is projected to encroach on major facilities shortly.
The flames consumed a 665-room oil-sands work camp north of the city, the Blacksands Executive Lodge, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday. The lodge is owned by Horizon North Logistics Inc. of Calgary.
Officials said Wednesday they expected the fire to move east towards plants owned by Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) and its Syncrude subsidiary, CBC News reports. They added the operations themselves are unlikely to be damaged by the flames as they are well isolated by wide barriers of cleared firebreak and gravel, and are employing their own firefighting crews.
By 6:00 am local time Wednesday, the fire had grown to approximately 422,898 hectares in size.
“It’s pretty significant growth,” provincial wildfire official Travis Fairweather said in a televised interview with CBC. “We’ve just been seeing really extreme fire conditions over the last couple of days. It’s been really burning intensely and the winds have been carrying it.”
The wildfire, which destroyed whole sections of Fort McMurray earlier this month, is also expected to reach the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.
So far, it has forced more than 88,000 people to leave the area, with about 8,000 of them evacuating Monday night as the resurgent fire shifted directions, posing fresh threats to oil sands complexes and worker camps.
About a million barrels per day of oil sands crude production has been shut down as a precaution and because of disruptions to regional pipelines. Much of that production remains offline.
But according to the Conference Board of Canada, such outages will have a “minimal” impact on the country’s economic growth. In a report released Tuesday, the Ottawa-based think tank said the while May production will be hit, the industry will likely make up that lost output next month, assuming operations resume.
In recent days, oil sands workers had begun returning to the camps north of Fort McMurray, as companies wanted to resume normal production. But this week’s evacuations and the volatile nature of the blaze have raised concerns that the region may suffer a prolonged production outage, which has helped to disrupt global oil supplies and prices.