Air Water Land
Investigation Of CNRL Upgrader Fire Continues

Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Occupational Health and Safety officials are continuing to investigate an upgrader fire at the company’s Horizon site that happened last Thursday, injuring five workers.

In an update this morning, the company said it has had a recovery team in place since Friday, which has started planning work to repair and reinstate the equipment and derrick infrastructure damaged by the fire (DOB Jan. 7, 2011).

The fire occurred at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Thursday at the top of coke drum 1B (one of four coke drums used on the Horizon site numbered 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B), an area commonly referred to as the cutting deck. The fire burned for approximately three hours and 45 minutes and was allowed to burn itself out, which is the safest way to manage this type of fire, according to CNRL.

Five workers were injured during the incident, four of which were medically cleared on Jan. 6. One worker remains in hospital in Edmonton and is in stable condition.

Air monitoring at the Horizon site and areas around the site, including Fort McKay, has been ongoing. Air quality has been recorded at levels between five and seven out of a scale of 100 with readings below 25 considered to be good air quality by Alberta Environment.

Workers on the Horizon site returned to their normal shifts on Friday morning. OH&S and Canadian Natural’s operations and investigation teams are working together to determine the causes of the incident. OH&S have now given CNRL’s personnel access to key areas around the Primary Upgrader to ensure equipment can be flushed and made safe for winter conditions.

Alberta Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said during a conference call Friday that the investigation will include staff interviews, examining documentation, reviewing engineering specifications and site inspections.

“We are also working closely with officials from the Energy Resources Conservation Board and safety code staff from Alberta municipal affairs and with officials from federal and provincial ministries of environment,” Lukaszuk added. “My primary concern, however, is that we find out what happened and what caused this accident to happen and how can we prevent these types of accidents from happening again in the future.

“My department is conducting a full investigation that is independent at this point and we do not know how long this investigation will take.”

Additional access is expected to be granted to the upper decks of the cokers in the next few days to allow for the assessment of structural stability and to determine the extent of infrastructure required to be replaced.

CNRL has confirmed electronic and instrument communication exists with two coke drums (2A and 2B) and evaluation of the other two coke drums (1A and 1B) continues. This would tend to indicate that damage to at least two of the coke drums (2A and 2B) is likely to be minimal and, in addition, visual observations indicate damage to all four coke drums may be minimal.

It appears that the majority of the damage is located above the cutting deck and derrick infrastructure of coke drum 1B.

A photographic survey of the cokers is planned for tomorrow to determine the extent of the damage to the derrick infrastructure.

Canadian Natural has started the procurement process for all necessary replacement components and parts for the repair of the cutting deck and derrick infrastructure above coke drums 1A and 1B.

Although it is too early to conclusively determine at this stage, there is the possibility that two of the four coke drums (2A and 2B) could be started up in a shorter time frame, allowing the Horizon plant to run at production rates roughly half of target capability until the repairs to the other coke drums (1A and 1B), cutting deck and derrick infrastructure is completed.

While repairs to the damage caused by the fire are undertaken, CNRL will take the opportunity to address maintenance backlog and potentially advance future turnaround work at the Horizon site, which should result in reduced maintenance downtime in the future.

Canadian Natural said that it maintains a US$2 billion umbrella insurance package for the Horizon facility which should cover a substantial portion of the cost to repair damaged parts and equipment and which provides business interruption insurance to effectively cover ongoing operating costs incurred on the site after 90 days.


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