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Parts of Alberta oil industry returning to normal after wildfire

Suncor Energy already moved more than 4,000 employees back to the area.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Parts of Alberta oil industry returning to normal after wildfire
Canadian oil companies start returning to normal operations in the Fort McMurray, though provincial officials in Alberta said there are lingering health concerns because of fire damage. Photo by MCpl VanPutten/Canadian Armed Forces/UPI | License Photo

EDMONTON, Alberta, May 31 (UPI) -- With oil installations resuming normal operations, the provincial government of Alberta said it was ready for phased re-entries into fire-damaged Fort McMurray.

The chief medical officer in Alberta said about 560 homes and a dozen apartment complexes were deemed still unsafe for habitation, nearly one month after wildfires in the Fort McMurray area forced the largest evacuation in Canadian history.

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"Despite this unwelcome news, we remain on track for voluntary, phased re-entry of the vast majority of Fort McMurray and the surrounding communities," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Monday.

Some debris fields in and around the municipality of Wood Buffalo remain off limits for some returning residents because of health concerns.

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The region is central to the oil sands industry of Alberta and fires had impacted about 1 million barrels per day in oil production. The fires created supply concerns in North America as Canada is the No. 1 oil exported to the United States.

The Canadian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell resumed some of its work in early May. Most of the infrastructure tied to the oil industry was spared by the wildfires.

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Suncor, one of the leading regional oil companies, started bringing some of its operations in Wood Buffalo back on line last week. The company said that, so far, it's moved more than 4,000 employees back to the region and expects another 3,500 additional personnel to return as conditions improve.

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"There has been no damage to Suncor's assets and all sites have enhanced fire mitigation and protection," the company announced Saturday. "Additionally, cooler weather and several days of precipitation have contributed to improved conditions in the region."

According to Alberta's government, the fires in Fort McMurray remain out of control and cover more than 2,200 square miles.

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