Wet conditions in British Columbia's northern Interior making logging difficult; West Fraser, Canfor report low log inventories, sawmill curtailments possible if rains continue

VANCOUVER, B.C. , July 12, 2011 () – Wild weather in the province's northern Interior has hit the region's resource industries, leaving the land too wet to support logging in some cases, and washing out roads to gas drilling operations, logging cutblocks, one mine and a wind farm.

Loggers are reporting they are unable to get to their operations because of road washouts and both the Willow Creek coal mine and Dokie Ridge wind farm near Tumbler Ridge are down because of washouts on Highway 97, the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations reported Monday.

It's not just last weekend's storm that has knocked out operations but the accumulated effect of a wetter-than-normal spring that is straining northern industries.

The province's largest sawmilling companies, West Fraser Timber and Canfor Corp., both report their log inventories are low, down to a matter of days in many cases.

"We are going day-to-day," Rodger Hutchinson, corporate comptroller at West Fraser Timber, said in an interview. "Our foresters are working very hard to get the wood into the mills, but it's a day-to-day thing."

"Our expectations are that we will be able to keep operations going, but if we continue to get rainy weather over the next few weeks, we could have curtailments. It's a possibility."

Canfor director of corporate communications, Christine Kennedy, said weather is an issue but has not caused production slowdowns at the company's 14 Interior mills.

"Conditions are very challenging but operations continue," she said in an interview. "The weather is definitely creating difficulties in the bush and in the trucking side of things. Everybody is fighting to keep the mills in stock."

Forest companies are reluctant to say exactly how low their inventories are, but MaryAnne Arcand, executive director of the Central Interior Logging Association, said Canfor is down to five days at some of its northern Interior mills. Kennedy did not dispute Arcand's assessment.

Gas companies report they are getting to wells by making use of detours or all-terrain vehicles, Hardy Friedrich, communications manager at the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission, said. The BCOGC issued bulletins July 8 before the Dawson Creek storm and June 25 before the storm at Fort St. John.

Companies were instructed to inspect their infrastructure before the rains hit and report back to the commission, he said.

"The road washouts have created access issues for some companies and in these situations the companies are utilizing detours, clearing or repairing the damaged roads as they go, or, in some cases, using ATVs or flying in," Friedrich said.

At EnCana's Dawson Creek area operations, existing wells are all operating but workers were told at the end of last week to stay home at wells under construction, said Alan Boras, EnCana's vice-president of media relations.

"It has to do with the impact [the storm] had on municipal roads," Boras said. "Some of them are impassable or not in a condition to travel on, so we have taken a temporary shutdown of our field operations because of the conditions.

" We would anticipate, depending on what happens to the weather, we will resume operations."

In Prince George, flooding that has forced the evacuation of homes along the Fraser River in the city's south end has not hit the industrial area along the Nechako River in the north, Arcand said. She said dikes were improved after a 2008 ice jam caused floods.

The real issue affecting the forestry sector, she said, is the long, wet spring and summer that has left the land saturated with water.

"Road bans had only just come off in the last week or two," she said, referring to seasonal road closures in the spring that follow winter breakup. "It's not necessarily raining all the time, but we are not getting the heat and we are not getting the wind that dries the roads. It's creating some real challenges because a number of the mills are low on [log] inventory if they are not out already."

She said the wet weather has delayed the start of logging, but for the most part workers are not being sent home. Many logging contractors are still negotiating contracts with forest licensees for the short summer season, she said.

Northern companies do most of their logging in the winter, when roads and the land are frozen.

At Frost Lake Logging, which operates in the forests between Prince George and Fort St. James, the weekend rain left the land too wet to work, safety officer Neil Smith said.

"It's slowed down our production," he said. "The machines are still on the site, but they are just sitting. Right now we won't be able to use our fellerbunchers or our skidders for a week, but we will be back in full production next week," said Smith.

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