Alberta producers restart oil and gas operations as wildfires temporarily ease

FILE PHOTO: A smoke column rises from wildfire WWF023 near Fox Creek

By Nia Williams

(Reuters) -A number of oil and gas companies in Canada's main crude-producing province Alberta restarted shuttered production on Wednesday as wildfires that sparked widespread evacuations eased, although officials warned conditions could deteriorate.

Producers shut in at least 319,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), or 3.7% of the country's production, earlier this week as more than 100 fires ignited across Alberta, forcing nearly 30,000 people to flee their homes.

By Wednesday there were 78 active wildfires across the province, of which 24 were classed as out-of-control, and nearly 18,000 people remained under evacuation orders.

Producers Crescent Point Energy and Tourmaline Oil Corp, and pipeline company TransCanada Corp restarted facilities that had been shut down as a precaution.

Christie Tucker, information unit manager with Alberta Wildfire, said cooler weather in southern and central Alberta had allowed firefighters to make progress but high temperatures, especially in the north of the province, were expected to return.

So far this year there have been 421 wildfires in Alberta and 410,000 hectares (1 million acres) burned.

"For context that's about double average area burned for the entire wildfire season, and it's only May 10," Tucker told a press conference.

Crescent Point shut in 45,000 boepd in the Kaybob Duvernay region in response to the wildfires but said it has since restored approximately 75% of that production with no damage to its assets.

The company "plans to fully restore the remaining production once it is safe to do so", Crescent Point said in a news release.

Tourmaline said seven of its nine facilities that were shut in because of wildfires have resumed operations and are back to previous production rates.

Its two remaining facilities, representing about 16,000 boepd of production, are undamaged. The company said it is waiting for clearance from the Alberta government before restarting those facilities, likely in the next several days.

TC Energy said it has restarted all compressor units that were shut down due to wildfire precautions. On Monday the company shut down two compressor stations on its NGTL gas pipeline system, which connects most of the natural gas produced in western Canada to domestic and export markets.

(Reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia, Sourasis Bose in Bengaluru and Scott DiSavino in New York; editing by Diane Craft and Stephen Coates)