Officials are investigating a Jan. 6 fire at an Alberta oil sands plant that injured at least four employees, halted production and almost caused the evacuation of a nearby First Nations community, The Canadian Press newswire has reported.
Investigators from the Canadian Natural and Occupational Health and Safety agency are on the scene at the Horizon Oil Sands facility, about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, with a work shutdown in effect until the plant is deemed safe.
“Synthetic crude oil production has been suspended,” said the company, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, in a press release. “It has not yet been determined when production will resume.”
The fire broke out in an upgrader, where bitumen is converted into crude oil products, and was later contained in the coker area, according to the Press.
Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta province’s labor minister, told reporters that “what we actually effectively do is similar to putting a yellow crime-scene ribbon around the work site,” the Press said.
There was a chance that residents of the nearby Fort McKay First Nation would have to evacuate but in the end that proved unnecessary, Jeff Winsor, the reserve's chief operating officer, told the Canadian Press. The plant is three or four miles south of the Fort MacKay community.
A $2 billion umbrella insurance package will recover repairs and equipment losses, the company said. The company promised a further update next week that “would provide additional information on the impact of operations, the extent of the damage, and the estimated timing and costs of repairs.”
Meanwhile the shutdown reverberated through commodities markets worldwide. The so-called Alberta Oil Sands are major suppliers of U.S. oil. CNRL shares dropped Friday, and oil jumped up, The Canadian Press reported. CNRL is the largest heavy-oil producer in Canada and the country's second-largest energy company. The Horizon plant is responsible for 16 percent of CNRL's oil production.
The individual price of shares in CNRL dropped Friday, while the price of oil spiked. According to the Canadian Press, the company said in a recent press release that the Horizon facility produced an average of 83,700 barrels per day in December.