(Bloomberg) -- Leftover blazes from last year’s record wildfire season in Canada are threatening to knock out almost 3% of the country’s natural gas production.

A total of 50 so-called zombie fires still smoldering beneath layers of snow are located near oil and gas wells and other production facilities, according to government data analyzed by Bloomberg News. Those sites yield natural gas equivalent to about 80,000 barrels a day of oil in Canada’s energy heartland of Alberta alone, in addition to almost 14,000 barrels a day of crude. 

Companies most at risk of disruptions include Tourmaline Oil Corp., the country’s biggest gas driller, as well as oil-sands giant Cenovus Energy Inc. and Paramount Resources Ltd. Smaller explorers could also be affected, including closely held Westbrick Energy Ltd.

Read more: Last Year’s Wildfires Are Still Burning Under Canada’s Snow

The residual blazes underscore how Canada’s energy industry -- underpinned by an oil-sands sector that produces some of the world’s dirtiest crudes — is increasingly imperiled by climate change. Usually hot, dry weather contributed to the country’s worst-ever wildfire season last year, darkening skies over New York and other US cities. And with over 65% of Canada abnormally parched or in drought at the end of March, the nation is bracing for another smoke-filled summer. 

Canada could be facing another catastrophic fire season this year as dangerously dry conditions combine with higher-than-normal temperatures buoyed by the El Niño weather pattern, according to a government forecast. Alberta declared the start of its its wildfire season this year on Feb. 20, the earliest in recent years. Zombie fires, along with new ones, could flare up as temperatures rise throughout the spring. 

The leftover fires burn into organic matter in the earth including into peat, which smolders easily and is difficult to extinguish. The blazes from 2023 aren’t generally as much of a threat as new conflagrations that emerge, but the large number of carryover fires this year is a problem, Alberta Wildfire spokeswoman Josee St-Onge said by phone. 

“The advantage is we know them and we have been working on them for a year,’’ she said, cautioning that the province is entering a period when blazes flare up. 

A representative for Cenovus said the company is building on what it learned last year to prepare for wildfires this season, including updating its fire program and completing risk assessments to ensure areas with excess vegetation are identified and mitigated. Spokespeople for Tourmaline and Paramount didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

For Westbrick, which shut in as much as 30,000 barrels of oil equivalent last year, the leftover fires are not a reason to be “overly concerned,” Chief Executive Officer Ken McCagherty said by phone. Much of the vegetation that fueled last year’s wildfires has been burned off, he said.

“We’re in a far, far better position this year than last year,” McCagherty said.


Chevron Corp., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Baytex Energy Corp. at times shut production equivalent to about 300,000 barrels of oil a day combined last year as blazes encroached on wells and processing infrastructure, mostly in the western shale oil and gas producing regions along the British Columbia and Alberta border. The fires scorched about 4% of the country’s forests. 

That damage was dwarfed by the fire season of 2016, when more than 1 million barrels of daily oil output was shut during a devastating blaze that razed sections of Fort McMurray — the largest city near most producers’ oil-sands operations — and caused about C$3.7 billion in insured losses, making it Canada’s costliest natural disaster.

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