TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Even as the Alberta wildfires continued to rage out of control, oil sands major Suncor Energy announced at the weekend that it had started a safe and staged restart in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), with initial production from its Firebag in situ facility starting early last week.
Start-up activities were also reported to be well under way at Base Plant and the MacKay River in situ facility and, subject to conditions in the region, Suncor expected initial production by the end of this week.
Suncor said it had moved more than 4 000 employees and contractors back into the region, including workers building the massive Fort Hills project. It expected to add about a further 3 500 workers this week to support its return to operations.
The company reported no damage to its assets, mainly attributable to all sites having enhanced fire mitigation and protection measures.
Critical third-party pipeline and power infrastructure required to support the start up had been restored. Services and accommodations for employees and contractors had been established following approval for occupation of its lodges from Alberta Health Services on Friday.
Suncor also stated that its majority-held Syncrude operation was also in the process of planning its return to operations.
INTENSIFYING THE FIREFIGHT
The Alberta government over the weekend reported that the wildfires, which had caused a supply disruption of about 1.5-million barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta, remained out of control and had grown to cover at least 579 946 ha, spreading across the provincial border to Saskatchewan province.
On Saturday, there were 14 active wildfires in Alberta, with one in Fort McMurray reportedly out of control.
There were about 2 292 firefighters, 90 helicopters, 273 pieces of heavy equipment and 20 air tankers currently battling the fires across Alberta, where three states of emergency had been declared in the affected communities.
Wildfire crews from across the world were supporting the firefight, including 298 firefighters from South Africa, 199 firefighters from the US, 113 firefighters from British Columbia, 84 firefighters from Ontario, 48 firefighters from the Northwest Territories, 29 firefighters from Parks Canada, one firefighter from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), seven firefighters from New Brunswick, 34 firefighters from Saskatchewan, two firefighters from Manitoba and 19 firefighters from Newfoundland/Prince Edward Island.
With higher humidity in the forecast and the potential for showers, it was expected that firefighting conditions would improve through the weekend.
SOUTH AFRICAN ASSISTANCE
An Air Canada flight chartered by the CIFFC on Sunday flew out of South Africa’s Oliver Tambo International Airport for the first time ever, carrying about 300 firefighters to help combat the Alberta wildfires.
The Boeing 777 was reported to have carried the largest number of wildland firefighters ever brought into Canada, who arrived in Edmonton in high spirits, singing and chanting.
“We are proud of our South African firefighters from our Working on Fire programme and we no doubt believe that they will do us proud to provide these essential services to Canada. We are immensely proud of the fact that the international firefighting community has recognised the skills and expertise within Working on Fire to provide essential integrated fire management services at an international level,” stated Working on Fire MD Llewellyn Pillay.