| 30 November 2023, Thursday |

Wildfire risk spurs Alberta park closures ahead of holiday weekend

Authorities in Alberta, Canada’s primary oil-producing province, have closed several parks and campgrounds and are encouraging residents to avoid activities that could exacerbate wildfires to avoid putting firefighting personnel under strain over the holiday weekend.

Residents traditionally spend the Victoria Day weekend outside, taking advantage of the nicer weather to go camping or enjoy other outdoor activities. The long weekend in May has traditionally witnessed an increase in seasonal wildfires, some of which are unintentionally sparked by humans.

This year, however, record-high temperatures and tinder-dry vegetation brought about an early and intense onset of the wildfire season in western Canada. Alberta has been hit the hardest, with some 10,000 people forced out of their homes as of Thursday.

Officials have warned that more wildfires could spread in the next few hot and dry days, even as firefighters make progress in tackling widespread blazes that have slowed the outflow of natural gas from Canada into the United States, spiking prices.

Over the past couple of weeks, the average amount of gas flowing from Canada to the U.S. has averaged just 7.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) as wildfires in Alberta caused some producers to shut oil and gas output and pipeline flows, according to Refinitiv.

That is well below the 8.4-bcfd average amount of gas exported since the start of the year and 9.0-bcfd in 2022. About 8% of the total gas consumed in or exported from the U.S. comes from Canada.

On a daily basis, Canadian gas exports to the U.S. were on track to rise to 7.3 bcfd on Friday, up from a 25-month low of 6.4 bcfd on Wednesday.

With abnormally hot and dry weather forecast until at least early next week, Alberta has preventively closed some provincial parks and campgrounds for the weekend and imposed a fire ban.

“May long weekend is one of the busiest times for human-caused wildfires,” Alberta Wildfire said on Friday.

“This weekend, we are asking Albertans to put safety first and support our wildfire response by restricting outdoor recreation activities in the northwest region of the forest protection area,” it said on Twitter.

About 2,700 firefighters, including personnel from Canadian and U.S. agencies and the Canadian army, were battling about 94 active wildfires on Friday.

The wildfires, significantly more than usual this year, have put Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s disaster management skills – as well as her party’s policies – under the microscope ahead of the provincial election on May 29.

Consultancy firm Rystad Energy has estimated nearly 2.7 million barrels per day of Alberta oil sands production in May is at risk in “very high” or “extreme” wildfire danger rating zones.

  • Reuters