Canadian Natural shuts heavy-crude operations, halting 65,000 barrels a day as wildfires spread

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has evacuated its Pelican Lake and Woodenhouse operations in northern Alberta in the first major shut-in of oil production triggered by wildfires this year.

The producer on Thursday removed all 240 people working in the two sites, halting a combined 65,000 barrels a day of heavy crude, according to a statement late Friday.

Three years ago, blazes razed entire neighbourhoods in the oilsands town of Fort McMurray and disrupted nearby operations. This year, wildfires in northern Alberta had so far spared production facilities, but Friday morning smoke blanketed the city of Calgary, where most of the industry has its high-rise headquarters.

After eight months of cold, Calgary residents were unable to fully enjoy blue skies and warm temperatures Friday because of a white haze that blanketed the city with a strong smell of burnt wood. The government’s air quality health index for the city was at “very high risk,” suggesting people reduce or reschedule any strenuous outdoor activities.

While Calgary is no stranger to smoke from Alberta wildfires, the haze more often appears in August, when the season is at its peak.

Some pedestrians walked around the city with surgical masks on, while further north in the province thousands of people were evacuated from remote communities where dry conditions have spawned the forest fires.

CTV Edmonton reported that about 14 homes were destroyed and dozens of others are in danger in the Metis settlement of Paddle Prairie, about 965 kilometres (600 miles) north of Calgary. The nearest big fires are about 500 kilometres away from Calgary. The town of High Level has been under an evacuation order since May 20. Evacuations have also been ordered for other areas including Keg River and Wabasca.

With expected output reductions of 10 per cent to 35 per cent in coming months, many companies will have to bolster cash holdings

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