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Alberta oil sands explosion kills one, injures one

18 January 2016

Nexen chief executive Fang Zhi confirmed on January 16 that an explosion at the company’s Long Lake oil sands plant in Alberta killed one maintenance worker and seriously injured another.  The explosion occurred in a hydrocracker at the facility, about 75 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, the previous day.

Stock image
Stock image

“Our thoughts are with the families … I want to express my deepest sympathy,” Fang, the CEO of Nexen Energy, a subsidiary of the Chinese oil company CNOOC, told a news conference in Calgary. “Our motto is that nothing is so important it can’t be done safely, yesterday we did not live up to that standard and I deeply regret it.”

The second worker, in critical condition, was flown to the University of Alberta’s burn centre.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo characterised the incident as a major explosion but said it did not take long for Nexen crews to get the fire under control and extinguished. Nexen said there was no danger to neighbouring communities.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately known but investigators said the workers were changing a valve on a natural gas compressor before the blast. Nexen said the plant has been shut down. Ron Bailey, Nexen’s senior vice-president of  Canadian operations. “We can’t speculate on the cause of this accident.”

Alberta Energy Regulator and Occupational Health and Safety officials are on site.

The Long Lake plant was also the scene of a pipeline rupture discovered last July that leaked more than 31,000 barrels of a mixture of oil, water and sand into the muskeg. The AER is still investigating the rupture of the pipeline that was less than a year old.

 Long Lake was shut down while Nexen complied with a pipeline suspension order after the regulator determined the company wasn’t complying with pipeline maintenance and monitoring regulations.

The suspension order was lifted in September and the plant returned to full operations.

The Long Lake facility is designed to produce up to 72,000 barrels of bitumen a day but has so far produced around 50,000 bpd. The hydrocracker is part of the facility to produce synthetic crude by combining partially upgraded bitumen with hydrogen to remove sulphur.

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