Canada wildfires rage on, intensify near oil sands sites

Wed May 27, 2015 6:50pm EDT
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By Nia Williams and Scott Haggett

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A wildfire raging in northeastern Alberta near two major oil sands projects nearly doubled in size to 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) 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.

Scott Long of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency 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.

It advanced on Cenovus Energy Inc's Foster Creek project and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd's Primrose oil sands facilities, both of which were shut down and evacuated over the weekend after the blaze, which began on Friday, closed the only access road to the sites.

"The wind conditions have changed, moving from the northwest, so the wildfire is moving towards some oil and gas infrastructure," Long said, adding firefighters had worked through the night putting in a series of fireguards.

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

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

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

Smoke rises from a wildfire east of Slave Lake, Alberta May 25, 2015 in a photo supplied by the Alberta Wildfire Info department.   REUTERS/Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD)/handout via Reuters