June 8, 2016 / 6:17 PM / 2 years ago

Wildfire prompts more Canada oil sands production cuts

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Oil sands producers Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Cenovus Energy shut projects and evacuated workers at Pelican Lake facilities in northern Alberta as wildfires threatened western Canadian output for the second time in a five weeks.

A massive plume of smoke, from a wildfire north of the city, stretches over Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada Wednesday evening, May 5, 2016. Courtesy Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Handout via REUTERS

Cenovus shut operations and evacuated all 118 workers from its 23,000-barrel-per-day Pelican Lake project on Tuesday but said on Wednesday afternoon the fire had weakened and was not an imminent threat to facilities.

The company said 44 essential staff would be back on site during the evening and that it eyed a potential production restart for Thursday if conditions remained safe.

Canadian Natural said on Wednesday it shut in 800 barrels per day.

“The wildfire is a safe distance from our major facilities at Pelican Lake,” Canadian Natural spokeswoman Julie Woo said on Wednesday. “Canadian Natural has moved non-essential personnel from our northern camp to other camps within our Pelican Lake operations.”

Average production at Pelican Lake was 47,600 bpd, Woo said, citing first-quarter filings. Woo did not have an update late on Wednesday afternoon.

The fire, roughly 75 hectares (185 acres) in size, and blowing away from the facility, is some 30 km (19 miles) from the community of Wabasca, fire official Travis Fairweather said.

More than 30 personnel were fighting the blaze, backed by bulldozers and helicopters dropping flame retardant, Fairweather said. Forecasts called for a chance of rain for Wednesday, a provincial website said.

“The fire is no longer considered out of control, and it probably won’t grow anymore,” Fairweather said on Wednesday afternoon.

The Pelican Lake fire is about 160 km (100 miles) southwest of the massive wildfire still burning east of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Last month, that blaze forced 90,000 residents to flee the city and shut down more than 1 million barrels per day of oil sands output.

Cenovus said there had been no damage reported to facilities or infrastructure. It said air quality was at acceptable levels.

All Cenovus staffers were evacuated on Tuesday evening to a temporary center in Wabasca, while non-essential workers were sent home.

Cenovus said essential workers remained on standby at Wabasca, and six workers returned on Wednesday morning to inspect the facilities from a safe location.

Husky Energy said its operations in the area were unaffected.

Editing by Alan Crosby and Peter Cooney

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