Alberta Fires Threaten Oil Sands Road to Fort McMurray

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An Alberta wildfire threatened a major road that connects Fort McMurray, the oil sands region’s biggest city, to the rest of the province after winds shifted direction, an official said.

The wind began blowing out of the southwest overnight, pushing the 3,090-hectare Pony Creek fire within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of Highway 881, Forrest Information Officer Leslie Lozinski said Friday. The road is one of two that link Fort McMurray, the home of many oil sands workers, to Edmonton. The blaze also approached a major power line and and was threatening a rail line as well, Lozinski said.

Northern Alberta wildfires have prompted energy companies including Cenovus Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd to evacuate workers and shut about 230,000 barrels a day of oil sands production, 10 percent of Canada’s total.

Heavy Western Canadian Select crude’s discount to U.S. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate shrank 15 cents to $7.85 a barrel at 2:15 p.m. Friday, its narrowest since September 2012, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The absolute price rose $2.77 to $52.45 a barrel.

A blaze was within 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) of Cenovus Energy Inc.’s Foster Creek oil sands site today and within 2 miles of a Canadian Natural Resources Ltd’s site, Lozinski said.

Cenovus has shut the 135,000-barrel-a-day Foster Creek project. Canadian Natural closed its 80,000-barrel-a-day Primrose facility and cut output at its Kirby South operation by 18,000 barrels a day.

(A previous version of this story corrected the placement of cities in Alberta.)

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