Pelican Lake wildfire threat eases, allowing Cenovus workers to return

WABASCA, Alta. – An out-of-control wildfire in northern Alberta that prompted two companies to curtail heavy oil production in the Pelican Lake area is now being held, one of the companies says.

Cenovus Energy Inc. (TSX:CVE) said it safely shut down about 23,000 barrels a day of production and ordered the evacuation of 118 staff from its Pelican Lake facility Tuesday after a fire was discovered about one kilometre away from its complex.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the company said the fire had been downgraded by emergency officials and fireguards had been put in place to protect its facilities.

“Because the fire is not considered an imminent threat to our facilities or staff, we have determined it is currently safe for essential personnel to return to Pelican Lake,” said spokesman Brett Harris. “We expect to have 44 essential staff back at site by (Wednesday) evening.”

He said the company would assess restarting production on Thursday.

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) said earlier Wednesday the fire was a safe distance from its major facilities at Pelican Lake, but as a precaution it had temporarily stopped producing 800 barrels a day and moved non-essential personnel from the project’s northern camp.

Alberta wildfire officials said Wednesday the blaze almost doubled in size overnight to 91 hectares but that it was moving away from those oil facilities.

Three fire crews supported by helicopters and air tankers were fighting the fire, which is about 300 kilometres north of Edmonton and 30 kilometres northeast of the community of Wabasca, Alta.