Oil industry aims for speedy return to business-as-usual, in wake of Fort McMurray wildfires

Otiena Ellwand, Edmonton Journal

Oilsands facilities north of Fort McMurray could be back up and running in the next few days, and more will return to production in the next few weeks, Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday.

“This wildfire is raging in the heart of Canada’s oilsands region, so while everyone’s focus from the beginning has been on protecting the safety of our citizens, there are real and immediate impacts to the livelihood of thousands and, of course, to our economy,” she said at a news conference.

Notley would not give specifics on the economic impact of the shutdowns, but said the majority of production ceased as the fire whipped through the area, then continued to grow throughout the week.

“There is an economic consequence to taking production offline,” she said Tuesday after a meeting with oil company executives. “There’s foregone revenue to both companies and to the Crown.”

She said if the curtailed output — just over one million barrels of oilsands output offline at an estimated loss of $65 million in daily revenue — continued for a month or two, it would have “measurable outcomes to our GDP.”

The oilsands facilities north of the city were not damaged by wildfire, and some of those operators were able to continue production as before. None of the oilsands facilities or other energy infrastructure in the area suffered serious damage, Notley said.

Steve Williams, CEO of Suncor, said it’s important for the Canadian economy to get production back on track.

He added he doesn’t anticipate any layoffs generally because of the fire.

“In fact, what I have heard this morning broadly from companies is they’ve guaranteed pay in advance so that pay to workers will not be interrupted,” he said. “And in most cases, they’ve gone into additional schemes either to loan funds … or to bring forward payments that were scheduled for later in the year.

“I think employees are in very good shape.”

As for when and how they’ll restart, each company will have its own challenges based on where it is in relation to the fire, the type of operation, its involvement during the evacuation, its workforce and ties to infrastructure, such as power and pipelines, said Tim McMillan, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The Fort McMurray wildfire has joined with another blaze and now spans 2,290 square kilometres of northern Canada, 30 km shy of the Saskatchewan border.

That fire is one of 25 burning across the province. However, only one is considered “out of control.” The government says fire conditions remain extreme with two new starts Monday.

There are 700 firefighters, 26 helicopters, 13 air tankers and 46 pieces of heavy equipment assigned to the Fort McMurray fire. Several hundred other firefighters are working on the other fires burning across the province.

There are 13 reception centres open to evacuees. People at several of them are experiencing symptoms of viral gastroenteritis and Canada Health Services says it is trying to prevent the spread of illness, but urges everyone to be extra diligent about washing their hands.

The government says a transitional shelter plan is being developed for those displaced to move people to more comfortable, transitional accommodations as quickly as possible. Re-entry planning is also underway and a schedule for re-entry is expected within two weeks.

Details around the financial assistance evacuees will be getting will be made available Wednesday, the government said. Adults will receive $1,250 each and $500 per child. The money will likely be provided in the form of a pre-loaded debit card. The government is asking those evacuees who “are not in dire need of these funds” to wait to put forward their claim.

Nearly 16,000 people dialed into a telephone town hall Monday night to receive updates for evacuees. Additional telephone town halls have been scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

Evacuees who have registered their cell phone numbers and emergency contact numbers with the Red Cross will be phoned before 7 p.m. on the evening of a call.



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