A LARGE wildfire has engulfed parts of Fort McMurray, a city which serves the oil sands industry in Alberta, Canada, and has forced oil production in the region to shut down.
The fire, which started on 1 May, spread from a forest several kilometres away, and due to changing wind conditions, engulfed several regions of the city by 4 May. In the largest evacuation in Alberta’s history, 76,000 Fort McMurray residents and others from the surrounding regions have fled to several shelter facilities north and south of the city.
Oil sands companies in the region – including Suncor, Shell and Exxon Mobil – have either reduced production or shut down operations to allow employees to evacuate.
Shell said it has shut down its 255,000 bbl/d oil sands mining production at the Muskeg River and Jackpine Mines, and suspended production at the Albian Sands site 95 km North of Fort McMurray to focus on “getting families out of the region”. Shell said its Albian Village work camp is open to any residents to take safe refuge.
Suncor has shut down its base plant operations and is operating its in situ and syncrude facilities at reduced rates as the availability of diluent has reduced. The company has also offered shelter for employees and evacuees at its facility 25 km north of Fort McMurray.
Steve Williams, president and CEO of Suncor, said: “We've been demobilising non-critical staff to ensure that sufficient space is available for employees, their families and other Fort McMurray residents at our camps.”
The oil companies have also pledged to assist in the relief efforts to rebuild Fort McMurray. Suncor said it will donate C$150,000 (US$117,000) to the Canadian Red Cross, and match any donation provided by its employees. Imperial, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, said it would pledge C$100,000 to the Red Cross.
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, said the entire country is prepared to help with relief efforts: “Canada's a country where we look out for our neighbours. We are there for each other in difficult times.”
While the wildfire has damaged over 1,600 structures, with many homes and businesses affected, no casualties due to the fire have been reported at this time. Danielle Larivee, Alberta's minister of municipal affairs, said the fire was actively burning in residential areas, and more than 250 fire fighters were battling the blaze.
In May 2015 wild forest fires forced the shutdown of Alberta’s oil production, closing down 8% of Alberta’s oil output.
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