300-Plus Canadian Wildfires Force Closures of Lumber Mills, Natural Gas Facility

By Danielle Bochove, Natalie Obiko Pearson and | July 12, 2017

More than 300 wildfires in British Columbia have forced Canadian lumber mills and an Enbridge Inc. natural gas compressor station to shut as hot, dry weather fans blazes across swaths of western Canada and the U.S.

Enbridge said Tuesday [July 11] that it has closed a compressor station on its T-South pipeline, which carries natural gas from northern B.C. to the U.S. border. Maintenance work in the affected area also has been halted, while emergency response plans are under way to protect facilities and workers, Enbridge spokesman Jesse Semko said in an email.

Wildfires have swept across the West, forcing thousands of evacuations across B.C., California and Colorado and prompting military personnel to mobilize on both sides of the border to help battle the flames.

Kinder Morgan Inc. said Tuesday it was closely monitoring the fires and was taking preventative actions near its Trans Mountain crude pipeline in B.C., including “removing vegetation to create a fire break and adding sprinklers to keep the areas wet.” On Monday, the company had said the blazes were in the “vicinity” of the pipeline.

Trans Mountain carries 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil and refined fuels from neighboring Alberta to the Vancouver area for export to the U.S.

Norbord Inc., the largest North American producer of oriented strand board used in residential construction, suspended production at its mill in 100 Mile House in central B.C. but stressed that, for now, the mill is safe.

Evacuation Zone

“We were in a zone that got evacuated Sunday night so we shut the mill down and that continues to be the situation,” Norbord Chief Financial Officer Robin Lampard said by phone Tuesday morning. The Toronto-based company has 440 million square feet of annual production capacity. It hasn’t disclosed the cost per day of the shutdown, Lampard said.

West Fraser Timber Co., backed by billionaire Jim Pattison, said as of Tuesday operations at three locations in B.C. — 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Chasm — remain suspended.

West Fraser said it’s uncertain how long the operations will be closed and is unable to assess the impact on lumber and plywood production. The facilities represent annual production capacity of 800 million board feet of lumber and 270 million square feet of plywood.

Tolko Industries Ltd. said on its Facebook page its Williams Lake mills won’t be operating until further notice.

330 Fires

West Fraser and Tolko’s mills are in the heart of some key fire regions and more curtailments are possible, said Kevin Mason, managing director of ERA Forest Products Research. Harvesting is being restricted in parts of B.C.’s southern interior and “some mills may eventually run out of logs later this summer,” he said.

Interfor Corp. said its operations weren’t directly affected by the wildfires as of Tuesday, but it has moved crews out of a woodland area “to be on the safe side,” according to spokeswoman Tania Venn. Canfor Corp.’s operations weren’t directly affected by the wildfires, spokeswoman Corinne Stavness said in an email.

B.C. declared its first state of emergency in 14 years over the weekend. As of midnight Monday, 330 fires larger than 0.01 hectares were burning in the province, according to the BC Wildfire Service. More than 14,000 people have been evacuated in the Pacific Coast province, according to broadcaster CBC.

Central Region

Some of the worst fires have been raging in the province’s central region, an area that’s home to mining, forestry and ranching.

Last year, wildfires five times the size of New York City swept through Alberta’s Fort McMurray, the gateway to the world’s third-largest oil reserves, forcing about 80,000 people out of their homes. Those blazes curtailed more than a million barrels of daily crude output as companies including Suncor Energy Inc., ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell Plc cut production.

The region is also home to mining. While no major mines had been shut down as of Tuesday, evacuation orders and road closures are affecting some operations.

Vancouver-based Imperial Metals Corp. said operations have been “significantly reduced” at its open-pit Mount Polley copper and gold mine near Williams Lake because of limited road access, according to a statement Monday. Employees able to report to work had been reassigned to maintain mill operations at the expense of mining.

Road Closures

“Should critical supplies such as fuel not be available due to road closures, the mine may be forced to suspend operations,” it said.

“We have a few days of fuel,” Steve Robertson, a spokesman, said by phone. For now, the supply route for fuel coming from Prince George and Edmonton remains open, he added. However, supply routes to the south are closed, which could affect deliveries of supplies.

Vancouver-based Taseko Mines Ltd. — operator of Canada’s second-biggest open-pit copper mine in B.C.’s Cariboo region where seven major fires are currently burning — said Monday that some of its workers have been personally affected by the fires but that the Gibraltar mine continues to operate normally.

Teck Resources Ltd.’s Highland Valley copper mine lies just south of a major fire reported by BC Wildfire Service at Ashcroft Reserve. The company is still monitoring the situation but doesn’t anticipate any impact on its mining operations, spokesman Chad Pederson said in an email Tuesday.

Copper Mountain Mining Corp., which has a mine 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Princeton, B.C., briefly lost power due to a line being downed but is operating normally, Dan Gibbons, a spokesman, said by phone. “We’ve had employees who have lost their homes,” he said by phone Tuesday. The Princeton fire is moving east, which means for now Copper Mountain operations are not in its path, he said.

Local fire officials in Arizona, Colorado, California and Nevada said Monday that they didn’t know of any mines affected by the fires. Company spokesmen for Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp. said Tuesday that mining operations in Nevada were unaffected.

–With assistance from Kevin Orland, Natalie Obiko Pearson and Robert Tuttle

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