Alberta wildfires rage on, intensify near oil sands sites

Wed May 27, 2015 1:03pm EDT
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By Nia Williams and Scott Haggett

CALGARY, Alberta May 27 (Reuters) - A wildfire raging in northeastern Alberta near two major oil sands projects nearly doubled in size to 17,000 hectares on Wednesday, although firefighters made some progress tackling blazes elsewhere in the oil-rich Western Canadian province.

The fires have forced energy companies operating in Alberta, the largest source of U.S. oil imports, to shut in 233,000 barrels per day of production, or roughly 10 percent of total oil sands output.

Geoffrey Driscoll, a wildfire information officer at the Alberta government, said the fire on the Canadian military's Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), near the oil sands projects, was still out of control even though 250 firefighters were battling to contain it.

Over the weekend the blaze, which began on Friday, forced Cenovus Energy Inc and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd to evacuate thousands of staff and shut in production at their Foster Creek and Primrose oil sands projects because the blaze closed the only access road to the sites.

Neither company has been able to provide an estimate of how quickly production can resume, and Cenovus spokesman Brett Harris said on Wednesday the fire had moved closer to Foster Creek.

"The only change is that the CLAWR fire is now estimated at around 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) from Foster Creek versus 25 kilometres yesterday," he said.

Canadian Natural said the production status of its operations remains unchanged.

A number of other oil sands projects across the province have evacuated staff and slowed down operations due to other fires.   Continued...