Nexen charged in oilsands explosion that killed 2 workers in 2016

Nexen Energy has been charged in the deaths of two Alberta oilsands workers who were killed in an on-site explosion in 2016.

Drew Foster, 52, and Dave Williams, 30, were killed in a blast at the Long Lake facility near Anzac, Alta.

An explosion killed maintenance workers Drew Foster, left, and David Williams who were refitting the valves on a compressor in the gas compression building in the hydrocracker unit on Jan. 15, 2016. (CBC)

Nexen Energy has been charged in the deaths of two Alberta oilsands workers who were killed in an on-site explosion in 2016.

The Calgary-based company faces eight charges in the deaths of Dave Williams, 30, and Drew Foster, 52.

Occupational Health and Safety laid the charges on Dec. 19, 2017.

The men were doing maintenance work in a hydrogen compressor building at the Long Lake oilsands facility near Anzac on Jan. 15, 2016, when a blast happened.

The men, both Nexen employees, were refitting the valves on a hydrocracker unit, where hydrogen is combined with partially upgraded oil to remove sulphur and make synthetic crude.

Foster, 52, died at the scene. Williams, 30, died after being hospitalized in critical condition in the burn unit at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.

'I want David and Drew to have their day in court' -Claire Poulton

Foster's mother Claire Poulton said she's relieved that Nexen is being held accountable.

"I am really happy. It was the best Christmas present that I had for a long time to hear that," Poulton said on Wednesday. "I want David and Drew to have their day in court. I want the responsibility put where it belongs."

Poulton said her family has been on a journey of sorrow, healing and a search for answers since the explosion. She hopes the court proceedings offer closure.

Williams' family, who live in Cape Breton, N.S., were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday. Williams' mother Bernice Williams told CBC News in February she rages with anger when she thinks about what happened to her son. At the time she felt Nexen had forgotten her family and their pain.

In an emailed statement, Nexen spokesperson Brittney Price said the company is reviewing the charges, and offers its "deepest sympathies" to the families.

The company is accused of a series of violations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including failure to ensure equipment — including a compressor unit known as a Make-Up Gas Compressor — was serviced and maintained according to safety codes, and failure to ensure workers were properly trained in handling the machinery.

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 weren't supposed to be doing.

"Our investigation indicates that the incident was a result of work being performed outside the scope of approved work activities," Bailey said at a news conference held by the company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

The Long Lake oilsands upgrader project is an in-situ oil extraction project about 40 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray.

A labour ministry spokesperson said the company is to appear in Fort McMurray provincial court Feb. 14.

With files from The Canadian Press