July 12, 2016 12:36 pm
Updated: July 12, 2016 9:14 pm

Employees caused Nexen Long Lake explosion: Company executives

WATCH ABOVE: Nexen has announced it will be laying off more than 300 workers in the coming months. As Tom Vernon explains, this is directly related to an explosion at its Long Lake facility in January.

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Nexen executives said the cause of an explosion at their Long Lake facility that killed two men was the employees themselves.

Ron Bailey, senior vice president of Canadian operations, said Dave Williams, 30, and Drew Foster, 52, were working outside the scope of their approved work activities when the explosion happened in January 2016.

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“We have a specific work scope that we say we should do. They were working on something other than that,” he said.

Bailey declined to elaborate on the details of what exactly the employees were doing. He said work was ongoing on the hydrocracker unit itself and the scope had been clearly defined for employees. He said a final report on the incident has not been published.

He said the company will re-train employees on the work permit process, perform more frequent permit auditing in the field to verify procedures are being followed, conduct more site visits and enhance monitoring and supervision systems.

Bailey adds that the facility’s upgrader has been in idle mode since the explosion and short-term repair is not feasible. The company will be moving the upgrader to winter preservation mode. There is no date for when it will return to full service.

As a result, he said the company will be reducing its staff by 350 employees by the end of the year.

Bailey also outlined the root cause of a pipeline spill that was discovered July 15, 2015, which caused five million litres of bitumen, sand and produced water to leak.

The clean-up cost to the company was less than $50 million dollars, he said.

READ MORE: Nexen spill probe taking longer than expected

He said thermally-driven upheaval buckling of the pipeline and subsequent cool down from the turnaround was responsible for the rupture.

“This was the result of using incompatible pipeline design,” he said.

READ MORE: Crude Awakening: 37 years of oil spills in Alberta 

Bailey also said the rupture actually occurred June 11, more than a month before it was discovered. The break occurred one kilometre from the Long Lake plant and was one of the worst leaks in Canadian history.

“Because the pipeline failed and we didn’t know it had failed, our monitoring on start-up didn’t pick up the issue. The delay in discovery was shortcomings in the leak detection system and our ability to manage the system,” he said, adding there were software failures and deficiencies in engineering, construction and operating performance.

Bailey said there were failings on the part of contractors and subcontractors during the design and installation of the pipeline and that Nexen will be using a more rigorous selection in the future.

More to come.

-with files from Global News and Canadian Press

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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