Alberta Wildfires Spread North, Threatening Oil Sands Facilities, Workers’ Camps

By | May 17, 2016

Wildfires raging across northern Alberta for more than two weeks have come to within a kilometer of an Enbridge Inc. oil-sands transportation terminal as warm weather and wind spread the flames, while workers were evacuated from camps north of Fort McMurray.

Fire crews are “working hard” with bulldozers to keep the blaze from the Cheecham Terminal operated by Enbridge about 75 kilometers (47 miles) southeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said at a news conference Monday.

About 4,000 workers were removed from camps north of the city run by Noralta Lodge Ltd., South Pacific Resources Ltd. and other companies, the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, said on its website. Suncor Energy Inc. and Syncrude Canada Ltd. workers were evacuated from camps, Alberta officials said in a briefing.

Winds were expected to be favorable in helping push the fire away from the Cheecham Terminal, where crude is stored and shipped out from the Athabasca region. Enbridge is widening an existing firebreak around the terminal and is considering spraying down facilities, Graham White, an Enbridge spokesman, said by e-mail. Some pipelines in and out of the terminal are operating.

‘Good Luck’

“We hope to secure that site a little more and hope to have good luck there by the end of the day,” Chad Morrison, an Alberta wildfire official, said at the news conference with Notley.

The wildfires burned down entire neighborhoods in Fort McMurray, the gateway to the world’s third-largest crude reserves, forcing more than 80,000 people out of their homes and prompting the shutdown of about 1 million barrels a day of production earlier this month.

The blazes have grown to about 2,840 square kilometers (1,096 square miles), almost the size of Rhode Island, from 2,410 on Friday as 40 kilometer-an-hour winds and hot weather cause them to spread to the northeast, south and west, Barry Shellian, an Alberta Forestry spokesman, said by phone. Similar conditions and the threat of lightning starting new fires, were forecast for Monday, he said.

Resuming Operations

Oil-sands companies including Suncor and Syncrude have been preparing to resume operations over the days and weeks ahead after the fire moved away from mines and upgraders north of Fort McMurray. Statoil ASA has resumed operations at its Leismer oil-sands facility, which is located south of the area swept by the fires but lacked diluent supplies from up north.

Suncor has put its Firebag oil-sands site back to work, according to two people with knowledge of the operations. The company moved 120 workers from its MacKay River operations, as well as lodges and camps on Aostra Road, to camps further north, spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said by e-mail. MacKay River is a 35,000-barrel-a-day production facility.

Enbridge said in a May 13 update on its website that the Cheecham Terminal was staffed and conduits that connect to it, including lines 18 and 19, were put into service. The terminal, which Enbridge operates with a 50 percent stake, wasn’t damaged, according to the update.

There are 1,919 firefighters, 161 helicopters, 377 pieces of heavy equipment and 29 air tankers currently battling the fires in Alberta.

–With assistance from Dan Murtaugh.

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