Suncor oilsands plant shuts down after power loss, pond water effluent release

Suncor Energy's base plant outside Fort McMurray has stopped production and has lost power as a cold snap torments the Wood Buffalo region.

The Alberta Energy Regulator confirms oil production has been reduced because of the disruption

The Suncor mine facility along the Athabasca river, as seen from a helicopter tour of the oil sands near Fort McMurray. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Suncor Energy's base plant near Fort McMurray has stopped production after a release of pond water effluent and power loss triggered a disruption in operations.

Suncor said it is responding to what it calls a "process upset" that occurred Wednesday afternoon at its base plant near Fort McMurray.

In an email, company spokesperson Erin Rees described a process upset as "a temporary disruption to normal operations." 

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) confirmed a release of pond water effluent and a power loss took place at the plant. Pond water effluent is water from oil sands mining that's recirculated from a tailings pond, AER said.

In addition to confirming there were no injuries, the AER said that as of noon Thursday wildlife had not been affected and containment measures were in place.

The AER said Suncor shut down production and started additional flaring, or controlled burning of natural gas, to manage the incident.

Location of Suncor base plant

Rees said the safety of employees and contractors has not been affected. The company does not provide minute by minute status updates on its "day to day operational issues," Rees added.

Fort McKay First Nation, whose residents live on a reserve about 30 kilometres from the plant, was informed about the incident but the band administration office had no further comment.

The Wood Buffalo region is under an extreme cold weather warning with temperatures hovering around the -30 degree Celsius range. It's not clear if weather is a factor in the Suncor incident.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca. 

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.