UPDATE 6-Canadian oil production trickles back as wildfire threat eases

Tue May 10, 2016 8:30pm EDT
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(Adds Cenovus set to bring back non-essential staff)

By Liz Hampton and Nia Williams

EDMONTON, Alberta May 10 (Reuters) - Oil sands companies around the Canadian energy center of Fort McMurray began to restart operations on Tuesday after an out-of-control wildfire forced a week-long shutdown.

Top provincial and industry officials said production in much of the region should ramp up soon. Facilities north of Fort McMurray that had been shuttered largely because of heavy smoke rather than fire were seen as likely to come back on line in a matter of days in many cases.

While the fire continued to grow on Tuesday, officials said it was moving to the south and east, away from the area's largest oil production facilities and into sparsely populated areas. A handful of smaller facilities remained under fire threat, however, and some could not yet be reached for damage assessments.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc became the first company to resume its operation in the center of Canada's oil sands region. Enbridge Inc began inspecting its facilities and prepared to restart operations shuttered during the blaze.

"While thousands of lives will never be the same, we can take small steps to getting back the rhythm of northeast Alberta," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told reporters after meeting with executives from companies including Suncor Energy Inc, ConocoPhillips Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

"For many in Fort McMurray, that means rolling up the sleeves, and returning to work doing what they love, which is working in the energy sector," she said in Edmonton.

Steve Williams, chief executive of Suncor, said the industry has plenty of housing available at project sites north of the city. Despite last week's mass evacuation, gathering a sufficient workforce would not be a barrier to restarting operations.   Continued...