Up From the Ashes
Following a hellish inferno, Canada’s oil sands region rebuilds
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.