Nexen fined in oilsands explosion that killed 2 workers

The company formerly known as Nexen Energy pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health and safety of two of its employees after an explosion in January 2016.

Company fined $450k under the Occupational Health and Safety Act

An explosion at Nexen killed maintenance workers Drew Foster, left, and David Williams in January 2016. (CBC)

The company formerly known as Nexen Energy pleaded guilty in Fort McMurray provincial court to failing to ensure the health and safety of two of its employees after an explosion in January 2016.

The Calgary-based company, now called CNOOC Petroleum North America, was fined $450,000 on Friday under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Alberta OHS laid the charges in December 2017. 

The two men were doing maintenance work in a hydrogen compressor building at the Long Lake oilsands facility when the blast happened.

Drew Foster, 52, and Dave Williams, 30, were refitting the valves on a hydrocracker unit, where hydrogen is combined with partially upgraded oil to remove sulphur and make synthetic crude.

CNOOC was charged $450,000 — the maximum charge for the offence is $500,000.

In court on Thursday, three family members read their victim impact statements out loud.

Tracy Foster, wife of Drew Foster, recounted her experience of Jan. 15, 2016. When she found out about the explosion, she sat at the window of her home waiting for his car to pull in. But it never did.

Instead, she watched a police vehicle pull into her driveway. She said she was "begging them to tell me Drew was okay."

Since Foster's death, Tracy said has been struggling physically and mentally. She started losing her hair in clumps. She said her youngest daughter has been taking her father's death particularly hard. 

"Not only have I lost my husband, I've lost my little girl," said Tracy.

Quinn Wilson, CEO of CNOOC North America, says the company was responsible for the health and safety of the two men that died. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Archie Williams, brother of Dave Williams, gave an impact statement as well. 

"I witnessed my brother take his last breath," said Archie. He added that since his brother died, his parents' health started to fail. His dad had heart problems and his mother was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.  Archie said the doctor told them the issues were more than likely linked to Dave's death.

Archie also said he was upset with the way Nexen presented the incident in the media. He said the company blamed the two dead men for the accident.

CNOOC North America CEO Quinn Wilson was at court as well. After court adjourned he spent time talking to the families.

"As an operator, we take full responsibility for what happened to those two men that day," said Wilson.

Wilson said since the explosion, the company has taken a number of steps to improve safety, "but today really isn't about going into those details for me. Today is about respecting these families and bringing this somewhat to a conclusion from a legal perspective."

About the Author

Jamie Malbeuf is a reporter with CBC News, based in Fort McMurray. She started her career with CBC in 2017, after graduating from MacEwan University with a major in journalism. She covers a range of topics including health, justice, and housing. Follow her on Twitter @JamieMalbeuf or email Jamie.Malbeuf@cbc.ca with a story idea.