Suncor Energy ceases operations due to Fort McMurray fires

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Alberta's wildfire has forced several Canadian oil and energy companies to scale back operations in and near Fort McMurray.

Suncor Energy, one of the affected companies, announced Wednesday its base plant -- located 25 km north of Fort McMurray -- had ceased operations due to safety concerns for employees. 

Husky Energy, Nexen, Shell and Syncrude are also among the oil and energy sector companies that have either suspended or reduced operations due to safety concerns.

Like other large businesses, the companies have coordinated the removal of employees and their families as needed.

Camp facilities normally used to accommodate workers have also been made available by companies for evacuees of the burnt-out city.

The wildfire, believed to have begun Sunday, forced more than 80,000 people to flee Fort McMurray and surrounding areas.

By Thursday night, it covered about 85,000 hectares of land.

A province-wide state of emergency was declared on Wednesday in response to the situation.

Suncor spokeswoman Nicole Fisher said in addition to the closure of its base plant, some of the company's regional facilities were also operating at reduced rate. 

"Our staff have been notified that if they work at the base plant, that the base plant isn't operational.

"We are evacuating all non-essential workers from our operations right now," Fisher said Thursday evening.

"We are planning for a return to normal operations when it is safe and appropriate to do so."

Staff affected by reduced operations and the shutdown of the company's base plant -- which remained undamaged -- were due to receive their normal pay on May 12, she added.

Suncor president and chief executive Steve Williams said in a statement the company was working closely with regional authorities to assist in evacuation efforts.

"We're doing what we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees, their families and members of the broader community.

"We've been demobilizing non-critical staff to ensure that sufficient space is available for employees, their families and other Fort McMurray residents at our camps," he said.

Unifor's president Jerry Dias issued the following statement in response to the disaster: "To our members in and around Fort McMurray, stay safe and know that your union is thinking of you and will work with you and your neighbours to rebuild your community.”

Unifor represents about 1,400 workers at Suncor Energy.

News of the blaze and its impact on oil production appeared to have affected the price of oil internationally.

On Thursday, the barrel price of crude oil was US$44.32, up 54 cents or 1.2 per cent on the previous day.

The Brent -- the international benchmark -- also gained, up 39 cents or 0.9 per cent to $44.32 per barrel.

Despite this, the devastation caused by the fire will undoubtedly be another major blow for Alberta, a province already struggling to cope with the crash in oil prices over the past few years.


Photo credit: Dusty Lane Photography 

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