Newspaper article International New York Times

As Fire Shifts, So Do Plans for Canada's Oil Output ; Alberta's Resettlement of Fort McMurray and Work Camps Is Thwarted

Newspaper article International New York Times

As Fire Shifts, So Do Plans for Canada's Oil Output ; Alberta's Resettlement of Fort McMurray and Work Camps Is Thwarted

Article excerpt

Just as two Canadian oil sands companies were preparing to resume full-scale operations, they and residents of the area were forced to stay away.

Rapidly changing winds have brought Alberta's huge wildfire to the perimeter of two of the oldest and largest of Canada's oil sands complexes, posing a new threat to an industry that earlier this week had been preparing to resume full-scale operations.

And hopes that residents of the city of Fort McMurray, or at least those whose houses were not destroyed, might soon be able to return have similarly waned. While the huge fire's new path largely bypassed the city on Monday night and early Tuesday, two explosions added an additional 10 houses to the tally of destruction. An estimated 2,400 buildings have been destroyed, officials said.

As the raging blaze, now more than a week old, turned north, skirting the western edge of Fort McMurray on Monday afternoon and evening, a series of small camps holding about 600 oil sands workers were evacuated. By Tuesday, according to Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta, about 6,000 workers had been moved to the north while an additional 2,000 fled south. Thousands of the northern escapees then made their way back south to Edmonton, the nearest major city to Fort McMurray, by air on Tuesday.

The workers had mainly come from the big open-pit mines and processing facilities owned by the companies Suncor and Syncrude. Over the past week, workers had been gradually traveling north from Edmonton and elsewhere to restart those operations. Some of them had just returned, only to quickly find themselves again boarding an evacuation bus.

The provincial government said that by midday Tuesday, just 8 employees remained at Suncor and 78 at Syncrude. In normal times, up to 7,400 people work at Syncrude, producing up to 350,000 barrels of oil a day. Most of the holdouts are members of the two companies' fire brigades.

Chad Morrison, the head of Alberta's wildfire service, said that the fire was now close to the Syncrude and Suncor oil sands plants. As it made its way there overnight on Monday, the flames devoured a 665-room work camp that had been evacuated hours earlier. …

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