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Alberta wildfires force evacuations at Statoil, MEG oilsands sites

Fires south of Fort McMurray also closed Cenovus and CNRL sites over the weekend.


CALGARY — Wildfires have prompted more evacuations from oil sands sites south of Fort McMurray, Alta., adding to the list of operators to be affected by out-of-control blazes in northeastern region of the province.

MEG Energy has bused about 900 workers out of its operations in the Christina Lake area, with about 80 staying behind for essential functions, spokesman Brad Bellows said.

The facility was undergoing some scheduled maintenance work, so there were more than twice as many people on site than would be there ordinarily.

Affected workers have either returned to their homes in Edmonton or are being put up in hotels there while the company awaits word from provincial authorities that it’s safe to return.

“The movement of staff off-site was purely a precautionary measure,” said Bellows. “There was no imminent danger to our people, most importantly, or to our facilities.”

Meanwhile, Statoil Canada has removed more than 150 non-essential employees and contractors from its Leismer project south of Fort McMurray.

About 30 workers are staying behind to keep the 25,000-barrel-a-day facility running, said spokesman Peter Symons.

“At this point, we haven’t had any interruption in our oil sands production and we’re just keeping a really close eye on the weather,” he said.

MEG Energy has also taken non-essential staff away from its operations in the Christina Lake region.

“Safety is absolutely paramount,” said Jamey Fitzgibbon, the senior vice-president responsible for MEG’s Christina Lake oilsands development.

“As a precautionary measure, we have temporarily suspended operations, including our planned maintenance turnaround. As soon as we have safety clearance regarding fire hazards, we will resume normal operations.”

Over the weekend, Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources shut down their oil sands operations near Cold Lake in eastern Alberta, crimping the province’s daily oil sands production by about 10%.

Cenovus pulled all 1,800 workers from its Foster Creek oil sands and Athabasca natural gas operations Saturday after the fire threatened to cut off the only access road to the facility.

Foster Creek, which is jointly-owned with ConocoPhillips, normally produces 135,000 barrels a day.

Canadian Natural Resources also evacuated all 250 workers on Saturday from its 80,000-barrel a day Primrose facility and reduced production at its Kirby South operations by 18,000 barrels a day to 12,000 barrels a day.

So far, it’s business as usual at Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Cold Lake oil sands project northeast of Edmonton, which averaged about 152,000 barrels a day of bitumen production during the first quarter.

“It’s a dynamic situation,” said spokesman Pius Rolheiser. “We’re keeping a really close eye on it.”

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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