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Workers talk near a Caterpillar Inc. mining truck at Syncrude Canada Ltd.'s oil sands North Mine in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, June 29, 2010.

Jimmy Jeong/Bloomberg

Shutdowns at major oil sands operations expanded again on Saturday as officials warned wildfires in Northern Alberta could double in size.

Syncrude Canada Ltd. has shut down its oil sands mine and processing plant, and is removing all employees, due to smoke on the site, located north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Syncrude said there was no immediate danger to its facilities from the massive wildfire that has already destroyed large parts of Fort McMurray and the surrounding forests, but as a precaution is taking its production units off line and evacuating all personnel this weekend. It stressed the jobs of its 4,800 employees are secure.

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Also Saturday, Husky Energy Inc. said it had shut down oil production at its Sunrise joint venture with BP PLC, located about 60 kilometres northeast of Fort McMurray.

Production had already been cut at the steam-driven facility to around 10,000 barrels per day, from about 30,000 barrels. The project is designed with capacity of 60,000 barrels.

Spokesman Mel Duvall said Husky planned to further reduce non-essential staff at the site late on Saturday, and that there was no damage to the operation‎.

The Syncrude operation, a joint venture of several energy companies led by Suncor Energy Inc. and Imperial Oil Ltd., produces up to 350,000 barrels a day of light synthetic crude derived from the oil sands. Already this week, as much 1 million barrels a day – about a quarter of Canada's oil production – had been shut off and thousands of workers moved to safer locales.

"We have sufficient busing and air capacity to execute this in a timely manner. The evacuation of personnel began early Saturday morning," the company said in a statement. "Syncrude will bring units back online when there is no risk to personnel or operations.

Other oil sands operations run by Suncor, Imperial, Nexen Energy ULC and Athabasca Oil Corp. have also been shut down or partially suspended, though there have been no reports of damage to energy facilities yet. As many as 88,000 people have been evacuated from the region.

Alberta premier Rachel Notley said Saturday the out-of-control blaze could double in size by day's end as conditions worsen, including gusting winds and high temperatures.

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