Canadian companies are keeping a watchful eye on the unfolding chaos in Libya, and there are reports that some employees are being escorted out of the country for their own safety.

Oil and gas titan Suncor Energy Inc. and engineering firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. are two of the largest Canadian-based companies with operations in the region.

"Some work on certain projects is temporarily suspended," a spokesman for SNC-Lavalin said. "All [projects] remain under supervision, and we will continue to monitor the situation to determine next steps."

"The health and safety of our employees, as always, remains our primary concern," the company said.

'Petro-Canada has decided a few hours ago that they're evacuating us.' —Elizabeth Atkinson, geophysicist

SNC-Lavalin operates numerous infrastructure projects in the country, including airports and water facilities.

CBC News has also learned that Winnipeg native Elizabeth Atkinson, a geophysicist for Suncor stationed in Tripoli, has been removed from her work site along with her colleagues for safety reasons.

"Things have changed quite a bit," she told her family in a voicemail message. "Petro-Canada has decided a few hours ago that they're evacuating us."

Petro-Canada was merged with Suncor in a $43-billion deal in March 2009.

"We are ensconced in an ex-pat compound. We're no longer living out in the community," Atkinson said.

500 Canadians in Libya

"In the interest of the safety and security of our people, we do not provide details or status commentary on contingency plans," Calgary-based Suncor spokesman Brad Bellows said.

"Suncor has contingency plans to ensure the safety of our staff in all countries and regions in which we operate. This obviously includes Libya, where we are [monitoring] and responding to events."

Other foreign firms have already started an exodus. Anglo-Dutch energy titan Shell PLC is in the process of evacuating several dozen employees from its lone exploratory gas drilling site in the country. Multinational rival BP said it is "very likely" to do the same thing in the coming days.


A gold seller talks to the photographer as she waits for customers at the old city in Tripoli. The country was on the brink of civil war Monday. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Libya is a major player in the energy industry. With 44 billion barrels of proven or probable reserves, it is Africa's largest oil producer. The country earns more than $46 billion a year from oil, which makes up 95 per cent of Libyan exports.

Crude oil prices were sharply higher on Monday due to the volatility.

European benchmark Brent crude hit a three-year high of $105.28 US a barrel, up $2.70 on the day. The comparable North American benchmark, the March light, sweet crude contract, was as much as $5.10 US higher to $91.30 before retreating.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said there are an estimated 500 Canadians in Libya and about 350 have registered with the Canadian Embassy in Tripoli. He said about 50 are working for Canadian energy firms.

Cannon said there are no immediate plans for a government evacuation of Canadians from the country.