Alberta wildfire grows “significantly, threatening nearly 5 MMbpd of oil sands production

Robert Tuttle, Bloomberg May 14, 2024

(Bloomberg) – The Alberta wildfire burning near Fort McMurray grew “significantly” overnight and moved closer to the largest city in Canada’s oil sands producing region, the province’s lead firefighting agency reported.

The 9,600 hectare (24,000 acre) blaze expanded to the northeast and is now about 13.5 km (8.4 miles) from the Fort McMurray landfill, Alberta Wildfire said in a release. Shifting winds caused the fire to grow in multiple directions and created large plumes of smoke. With winds expected to blow out of the west and southwest gusting to 35 km and hour, “this will be a challenging day for firefighters,” the agency warned.

The fire is one of two listed as out of control in Alberta and the closest to the oil sands, where the bulk of Canada’s 4.9 MMbopd is produced. The fire prompted an alert on Friday that put the city’s 70,000 residents on notice that they should be ready to leave if necessary.

Rising temperatures across western Canada increased fire risk in recent days, contributing to poor air quality in Calgary over the weekend. Rain in the Fort McMurray area was supposed to dampen wildfire activity Monday, but fire activity increased in the afternoon and into the evening, according to Alberta Wildfire. More than 65% of Canada was abnormally parched or in drought at the end of March, threatening another smoke-filled summer.

Fort McMurray, located in a remote and heavily forested part of the province, has experienced fires before. Blazes burned down large sections of the city eight years ago, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate and temporarily shutting more than 1 MMbpd of oil production. 

The fire isn’t currently near any major oil sands mines, but its southern perimeter is within 8 km (5 miles) of Athabasca Oil Corp.’s Hangingstone well site, which produced almost 7,500 bopd in February, Alberta Energy Regulator data show. The company didn’t respond to questions on the status of the facility.

In addition, two Inter Pipeline Ltd. natural gas liquid lines and a Pembina Pipeline Corp. crude pipeline pass through the west end of the wildfire zone, according to Alberta Energy Regulator and Alberta Wildfire data. Neither company responded to emails seeking comment on the status of the lines.

Meanwhile, a blaze in British Columbia continues to threaten the town of Fort Nelson, which lies on the northern edge of a major natural-gas producing region. Residents of the town of about 3,000 people are under an evacuation order, and new evacuation orders and alerts were issued Monday for nearby areas. 

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