2016 Review: Short-lived effect on crude oil exports due to the Fort McMurray wildfire

Release date: 2017-01-10

The Fort McMurray wildfire in May 2016 resulted in oil sands production losses as high as one million barrels per day (MMb/d) at the height of the disaster.Footnote 1 However, there was no long-term loss of production because no existing oil sands facilities were significantly damaged. In fact, production had fully recovered by August.Footnote 2

The production outage caused by the wildfire resulted in a 14% decline of crude oil exports loaded in Alberta; declining from an average of 2.90 MMb/d in the first quarter of 2016 to a low of 2.49 MMb/d in June, before a recovery of 2.84 MMb/d in August.Footnote 3 Bitumen diluted with lighter hydrocarbon had the largest decline by volume at 0.16 MMb/d; a 28% decline. Light synthetic crude oil (upgraded bitumen) declined 0.15 MMb/d, or 58% - the largest decline on a percentage basis. Exports of conventional heavy crude oil declined 0.09 MMb/d, or 11%.

Source and Description

Source: NEB Commodity Tracking System (Monthly Data)

Description: This stacked area graph illustrates exports of crude oil loaded in Alberta by type between October 2014 and October 2016. Light crude is categorized as conventional or synthetic, while heavy crude is divided into conventional, bitumen, diluted bitumen, and synthetic. In general, crude exports loaded in Alberta have been increasing over time, from 2.56 MMb/d in October 2014 to 2.75 MMb/d in October 2016. Prior to the Fort McMurray wildfire, crude oil exports averaged 2.90 MMb/d, but fell during and after the wildfire to an average of 2.52 MMb/d in May and 2.48 MMb/d in June. By August, exports had recovered to 2.84 MMb/d. The wildfire-related drop was largest for three specific types of crude oil, namely light synthetic, diluted heavy, and conventional heavy.

The majority of crude oil exports loaded in Alberta are destined for the U.S. Midwest, with the U.S. Gulf Coast serving as a smaller but increasingly important market. During the Fort McMurray wildfire, crude exports loaded in Alberta declined to both regions but rebounded quickly. Thus, it appears that the wildfire disruption did not lead to U.S. markets significantly replacing oil sands products with alternate sources of supply.

Disclaimer: The NEB is working on improvements to its crude oil data and may publish an update to this article later in 2017.

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