Alberta forest fire forces evacuation of oilsands facilities

With an out-of-control forest fire burning nearby, two energy companies are evacuating staff from oilsands facilities near Alberta's eastern border.

Cenovus and CNRL shut down operations as precautionary move

Cenovus Energy's Foster Creek plant in northeast Alberta. (Canadian Press/Cenovus )

Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources Limited have evacuated their facilities within the Cold Lake Air Weapons range, close to Alberta's eastern border, due to an out-of-control forest fire in the area.

"Yesterday, CNRL evacuated their plant facilities in the Primrose area and then, last night at 11 o'clock, we advised Cenovus in Foster Creek that it would be a good precautionary move to evacuate their personnel as well," said  Leslie Lozinski, spokeswoman for the province's environmental and resource ministry.

Cenovus evacuated their facilities at Foster Creek because the fire threatened the only road out, which would have made any evacuation of the facility difficult.

Rhona Delfrari, spokeswoman for the company, said there were approximately 1,800 staff on site last night before the evacuation started early Saturday morning. By the afternoon, only a handful of staff were left over to shut down the plant before escaping by helicopter.

"As far as we know right now, there is no threat from the fire to our facilities, it was more about the road being blocked off from the fire," said Delfrari.

Monitoring the situation

CNRL's operations in the area are closer to the fire.

Scott Stauth, the company's vice-president for North American operations said they have shut down "almost all of our operations, but we still have our main facility, which is not in the weapons range, we still have it manned and operating."

Some staff were moved on Friday night and others followed suit on Saturday.

Stauth said none of the facilities are directly threatened by the fire at this time but the company is monitoring the situation.

As for an entire facility being engulfed by flames, Stauth says it's unlikely.

The facilities are built far from the tree lines, Stauth said. "So we're not anticipating that our facilities would get taken over by flames, just because there's no vegetation anywhere near the facilities."

Ministry in contact

Ministry officials are in contact with all companies operating in the area of the fire, but Lozinski could not provide a number on how many facilities could be affected.

The fire, engulfing 4,000 hectares as of Saturday afternoon, is currently categorized as "out of control" thanks to hot, dry conditions. It is heading in both a northwest and southerly direction.


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