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Nexen Energy charged over fatal 2016 oil sands plant explosion in northern Canada

02 January 2018

On December 19, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety filed eight charges against Nexen Energy over an incident in January 2016 when two workers were killed in an explosion at Nexen’s Long Lake site south of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta. The facility has been shut down ever since.

Stock image
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The two workers were changing valves on a hydrocracker, where hydrogen is combined with partially upgraded bitumen to remove sulphur while producing synthetic crude oil, when the explosion took place. One died at the scene, while the second died a week later in the burns unit of an Edmonton hospital.

After the incident, Nexen CEO Fang Zhi called the explosion “one of the darkest days in Nexen’s history,” and apologised to the workers’ families. The company is a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned firm CNOOC Ltd.

In July 2016, Ron Bailey, head of Canadian operations at Nexen, said that after an extensive investigation the company found the explosion was caused by staff doing work they were not supposed to be doing.

The eight charges include two counts of failing to ensure the health and safety of a worker, failing to ensure all workers were familiar with procedure before the work was done — specifically, isolating a single stage of a compressor rather than both stages — and failing to ensure a make-up gas compressor was serviced, maintained, repaired or dismantled according to the manufacturer’s standards.

Nexen is scheduled to appear in court to answer the charges on February 14.

The company has also been charged by the Alberta Energy Regulator after a ruptured pipeline spilled five million litres of emulsion near the Long Lake facility in July 2015.

A request from the company for more than $19 million in tax relief from the municipality was rejected by councillors last April.

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