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Reassurances emerge after second oilsands mine work camp outbreak

Last Updated May 14, 2020 at 11:58 am MDT

PHOTO. A 2012 file photo of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. Horizon facility. The worksite lies about 80 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alta. MYMCMURRAY/File Photo.

Observers say the second outbreak of COVID-19 at an oilsands mine work camp in northern Alberta is concerning but the industry is dealing with the risk in an appropriate way.

Oilsands analyst Phil Skolnick of Eight Capital says the example set by Imperial Oil Ltd. in continuing production while taking measures to deal with an outbreak that began last month at its Kearl oilsands mine is reassuring for investors.

He adds that oilsands producers throughout the industry are slowing work and reducing staffing levels to reduce the risk of transmission, decisions that have the added benefit of reducing production at a time when oil prices are at low ebb because demand has fallen during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Deena Henshaw reported there had been an outbreak of five COVID-19 cases at the Horizon mine camp operated by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.

At Kearl, the number has climbed to 107.

She said she is confident the spread can be contained at Horizon, adding she spoke with other camp operators in the region earlier this week and found they were co-operative and aware of precautions they should be taking before and after an outbreak is discovered.

In an email, Canadian Natural says four of the five cases were linked to an employee of a maintenance service provider and the other was an employee of the camp services provider. It added it has implemented stringent measures to control transmission, including pre-screening and requiring face masks on company planes and buses.

“When you think of the thousands of people that go in and out of these camps on a regular basis, the fact that at Kearl Lake we now have 107 cases and that’s spread out over about six weeks in terms of new cases, many of those happened much earlier, (now) we’ve had a small recent cluster, but again I think it’s a testament to the work that’s been done to reduce spread,” said Henshaw.