Phased re-entry plan for oilsands camps near Fort McMurray begins

Click to play video: 'Oilsands work camps begin re-opening process' Oilsands work camps begin re-opening process
WATCH: Nearly three weeks after a wildfire forced the evacuation of the City of Fort McMurray, the nearby oil industry is beginning plans to return and restart operations. Fletcher Kent reports – May 23, 2016

Oilsands camps:

Assessment work to return a number of oilsands camps to operations has begun.

On Monday, the Regional Emergency Operations Centre endorsed the province’s recommendation to allow phased re-entry to several camps north and south of Fort McMurray.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire now covers more than 522K hectares

The REOC supported the suggestion from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry that assessments of the following sites could begin:

AOSTRA Road corridor:

  • Suncor Baseline and MacKay River camps
  • All Brion camps
  • Birch Mountain camp
  • Sunshine camp
  • Production facilities access by AOSTRA Road

Highway 63 (south of Fort McMurray) corridor:

  • AOC
  • Hangingstone
  • Great Sand Tiger
  • Grayling Creek Fire Base

People will not be allowed to stay in the camps until Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Alberta Health Services inspections have been done to ensure conditions are safe.

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READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: evacuation order lifted for some work camps north of the community

“The phased re-entry for all oilsands camps in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is now underway,” a news release from the region said Monday.

Syncrude spokesperson Will Gibson said there are currently 150 people on site to assess and check on different plants and equipment.

“We haven’t shut down our operation since we began production in 1978.”

“This is going to be a big job,” Gibson said. “It is somewhat unprecedented but we’re committed to doing it safely. And we’re committed to getting it right.”

He said there are also emergency responders at Syncrude facilities and stressed safety is the number one priority.

“While we brought people up, we also have plans in place for them to be safely evacuated if the situation should change again.”

Syncrude is not yet releasing any specific timelines for this process.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Mandatory evacuation order expands to just south of Fort MacKay

The re-entry plan comes after the camps were evacuated by fire May 16. One work camp – the 665-unit Blacksand Executive Lodge – was destroyed by fire. No injuries or deaths were reported. On May 20, the evacuation order was lifted for some camps north of the city.

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A mandatory evacuation order remains in place for Fort McMurray and Anzac.

Wildfire Status:

As of 10 a.m. Monday, the Fort McMurray wildfire was estimated to cover 522,895 hectares, including 741 hectares in Saskatchewan.  It was 504,443 hectares Saturday afternoon but officials say they’ve been able to get a clearer, more accurate look at its size more recently.

“Conditions have improved,” wildfire information officer Laura Stewart said.

“In the last 48 hours there’s been approximately 5 mm of rain that’s been received on the wildfire, mainly on the western portion of the wildfire but we are hoping to see more over the next few days,” Stewart said.

In the span of 24 hours, parts of the Capital Region saw almost 40 mm of rainfall. The Fort McMurray area did not see nearly that much.

“Initially the forecast was calling for more precipitation but it sort of skirted the Fort McMurray area and we haven’t seen as much as we thought there was going to be,” Stewart said, “but the forecast continues to call for increased humidity, cooler, damper temperatures with rain.”

The fire remained out-of-control and Fort McMurray is still restricted to authorized personnel only. Workers returning to Alberta oilsands sites are permitted to head north on Highway 63, which passes through Fort McMurray, but have been told there is no access to the city at this point.

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Any residents who were part of the evacuation and left driver’s licences or ID cards behind can request a new, free one at any Alberta registry agent.


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