Latest evacuations plunge oil sands restarts into uncertainty

Wed May 18, 2016 5:58pm EDT
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By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta May 18 (Reuters) - The sudden surge north of the massive wildfire burning in Canada's oil sands region has dealt a new setback to producers, triggering a second round of evacuations and threatening work camps north of Fort McMurray.

With the the city of Fort McMurray off limits and fewer places to house workers needed to restart operations, production may be shut down for longer than companies and market analysts had anticipated.

A shift in winds and hot temperatures sent the blaze roaring toward Suncor Energy and Syncrude Canada's mining and upgrading projects late Monday, forcing them to shut down for the second time in two weeks.

It also prompted the hasty evacuation of 8,000 oil sands workers from a dozen nearby camps, engulfed one 665-room lodge in flames and threatened other camps, emergency officials said.

Scores of work camps scattered across the remote region house thousands of people who fly in from around the country.

"We have got our fingers crossed because without the camps there's nowhere for any workers to go," said Ian Robb, president of the Unite Here Local 47 union, which represents camp cooks and cleaners.

"If the camps are not standing, there's no rebuilding."

Suncor's base plant and Syncrude alone account for about 665,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude production, and both were in the process of bringing back workers and restarting operations after the first round of shutdowns.   Continued...