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Evacuation order rescinded for Penn West gas plant

A wildfire evacuation order near Fort Nelson that affected 15 gas plant employees was rescinded Saturday.
On Thursday, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality issued a state of emergency and an evacuation order for an area of land that included a gas plant and a nearby compressor station. That order was lifted Saturday, however 15 workers at the plant are to remain on alert for possible evacuation.

A wildfire evacuation order near Fort Nelson that affected 15 gas plant employees was rescinded Saturday.

That means employees at Penn West Petroleum’s Wildboy gas plant can return to the facility, which is located 115 kilometres northwest of Fort Nelson.

Jillian Kelsh, a communications specialist for the Prince George Fire Centre, said the employees at the plant planned to return to work Saturday.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality officially lifted the order at about 11 a.m. Saturday. 

Wildfires have impacted the area near Fort Nelson, and around 3,000 hectares have burned.

On Thursday, the evacuation order was issued for the area surrounding the Wildboy gas plant.

 Kelsh said that the area near the plant received up to five millimeters of rain on Friday night, allowing regional and local authorities to lower the evacuation order to an evacuation alert. This means people in the area must be prepared for possible evacuation.

Kelsh said the area is still considered as high risk.

The B.C. government ranks wildfire risks in five categories, from “very low” to “extreme.” “High” is considered the fourth highest risk category.

“[The recent rain] may lower the fire danger a little bit, but it will only be temporarily,” said Kelsh.

“We expect after the rain it’ll get hot and dry again.”

On Friday, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) launched a provincial emergency updates page on its website designed to provide information on emergencies affecting oil and gas operating areas. An industry bulletin will inform operators about best fire practices, and warn them to "exercise increased vigilance when conducting flaring operations with consideration for the increased wildfire risk.”

Flaring is the burning of excess gas by operators, and is done for a variety of reasons.

“The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission made sure that oil and gas operators in the alert were notified of the fire risk and related evacuation order to ensure their facilities were secure,” said Alan Clay, an OGC spokesperson, in an email.

“Penn West has a standard protocol in place for situations like this,” said Sean Beardow, a Penn West representative. “The plant has been depressurized, shut in and effectively isolated.”

There was no danger to people or the environment, Beardow added.