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Canada’s Oil Sands In Trouble As COVID Cases Soar

The northern parts of Canada’s province of Alberta have seen rising coronavirus cases in recent weeks with several oil sands sites becoming hot spots of outbreaks as workers are flying in and out for maintenance at the crude upgraders.

The high active COVID cases have not impacted production in the Canadian oil patch, but some maintenance work has been stretched because of the outbreaks, industry officials told Bloomberg.

According to data from Alberta Health at the start of this week, cited by CBC News, there were as many as 12 outbreaks at sites across the

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in northern Alberta, with a total of 2,054 workers tested positive.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo declared a state of local emergency on Monday after having reported on Sunday the highest active COVID-19 case ratio (per 100,000 population) in Alberta. The municipality had the third-highest number of total active cases, after Calgary and Edmonton.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, without blaming any group, suggested that the increased numbers of COVID-19 active cases may be the result of a surge of current worksite numbers associated with turnarounds, and the complexity with the mobility of the oil sands production workforce, among several other factors, the municipality said.

Of the active Fort McMurray cases reported by Alberta Health Services, 24.05 percent originated in the Oil Sands through contact tracing, it added.

Slower vaccine rollout in Canada than in the United States and other parts of the world such as the UK, as well as the mobility of the oil sands workforce, have played a role in the recent outbreaks.

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Some companies have had to stretch maintenance work to control the outbreaks. For example, Syncrude Canada, majority-owned by Suncor, started in March maintenance on a 350,000-bpd upgrader in which 2,000 workers were involved. But the company had to stretch the work longer than usual to try to contain the outbreak, company spokesman Will Gibson told Bloomberg. Nevertheless, 221 active COVID cases were linked to those maintenance operations.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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