On-site investigation of CNRL coker fire continues

A crane arrived on the Horizon oilsands project Saturday to help get a better view of the damage caused by the coker fire earlier this month.

"The crane was put into place on Saturday and our officers have been utilizing it since then to get a better perspective of the extent of damage from the fire," said Barrie Harrison, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety spokesman this morning.

The fire which was captured on video and posted on YouTube, sent two men to hospital with burns: one suffered first degree burns while the second suffered second and third degree burns. A third injury confirmed to an Alberta Occupational Health and Safety investigator was treated at the site and released. The two men who went to hospital were CNRL operators. Two other men were injured however, OH&S said the injuries were not related to the incident.

A stop-work order issued by OH&S remains in effect at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. site about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

"Our stop work order in the immediate area of the incident remains in effect until we can complete this initial on-site phase of the investigation which is likely to take a number of days yet," added Harrison.

Meanwhile, no further statement or interview has been offered by CNRL since Jan. 10. No timeline when an update can be expected from the company has been offered.

With the stop-work order in place, synthetic crude oil production has been suspended. It has not yet been determined when production will resume.

The fire was successfully extinguished a little under four hours after it started. Prior to that, the fuel source had been isolated, containing the fire to the coker in the primary upgrading area, a portion of the plant that converts bitumen into crude oil products.

The cause of the fire is currently under investigation by regulators as well as CNRL. OH&S has two years to complete its investigation.

A U.S.$2-billion umbrella insurance package for the Horizon facility will cover repairs of damaged plant and equipment, said a Jan. 7 CNRL update, and offers business interruption insurance to effectively cover ongoing operating costs incurred on the site after 90 days.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Federation of Labour continues its calls for a timely and transparent investigation given what has happened with the government's response to the last major accident that occurred on the Horizon site: the tank farm collapse of April 2007 that killed two Chinese temporary workers and injured four others.

"Nearly three years have passed since that incident and we still don't know what happened. We don't know what problems were at the root of the collapse and we don't what steps, if any, have been taken to fix those problems," said AFL president Gil McGowan.

"To put it bluntly, what has happened with the investigation into the tank farm collapse simply can't be allowed to happen to the investigation into (the) coker explosion."

A third workplace fatality happened at Horizon on Sept. 3, 2008 when a Clayton Construction employee drowned after the floating excavator he was driving when it flipped onto the operator's side and sank in the tailings pond.

Charges were laid against the two companies just one day shy of a two-year time limit.

OH&S laid seven charges against Clayton Construction including failing to maintain the health and safety of a worker. The other charges, including failing to operate equipment in accordance with manufacturer's specifications, primarily focus on mechanical-related and training issues with the equipment.

Two charges were laid against CNRL that translate into the company failing to monitor the contractor when it came to safety performance and compliance with the occupational health and safety code.

The case is expected back in court in early March.

Fort McMurray Today, Tues Jan 26 2011
Byline: Carol Christian

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