Up From the Ashes

Fol­low­ing a hellish in­ferno, Canada’s oil sands re­gion re­builds

Alberta Oil - - OBSERVER -

MOST OF THE 1.2 MIL­LION BAR­RELS PER DAY

of oil sands pro­duc­tion that were taken of­fline by the Fort McMur­ray wild­fires in early May were ex­pected to have re­turned by June. Shell’s 255,000-b/d Al­bian Sands op­er­a­tion was the first to re­sume nor­mal pro­duc­tion on May 10. There was no dam­age to it and other fa­cil­i­ties north of the city, which ceased oper­a­tions due to smoke and con­cerns for em­ployee safety.

Sim­i­larly, af­ter wild­fires shut down oper­a­tions near Cold Lake, Al­berta, in the sum­mer of 2015, nor­mal pro­duc­tion was re­stored within two weeks. Un­der­ground pipe­lines are rel­a­tively pro­tected from for­est fires, and elec­tri­cal sys­tem re­pairs can be done quite rapidly.

Af­ter a meet­ing be­tween Al­berta Premier Rachel Not­ley and the se­nior ex­ec­u­tives of ma­jor en­ergy com­pa­nies af­fected by the fire, Sun­cor CEO Steve Wil­liams said, “It’s im­por­tant to…get back into the rhythm and start to sup­port the econ­omy. There’s a great spirit of try­ing to make the eco­nomic im­pact as small as pos­si­ble.”

As of May 17, oil sands op­er­a­tors haven’t lost any crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, but they now face ma­jor staffing is­sues as Fort McMur­ray, the re­gion’s only ur­ban ser­vice area, will re­quire sub­stan­tial re­sus­ci­ta­tion. Res­i­dents, in­clud­ing oil work­ers, have yet to re­turn to their homes, while travel to the city re­mains lim­ited to es­sen­tial ser­vices—a sit­u­a­tion whose end was still un­de­ter­mined by press time. With the re­gion’s only high­way in and out still largely re­served as an emer­gency sup­ply route for oil sands equip­ment and aid ve­hi­cles, oil sands op­er­a­tors may have to re­sort to fly­ing work­ers into their camps, dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing costs for op­er­a­tors.

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