Canadian Natural Resources has been fined $10,000 by Alberta’s professional engineering society — the maximum allowed — following an investigation into an accident at an oilsands site that killed two and injured five others in 2007.
In a report released Wednesday, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) says the company has admitted to unprofessional conduct on how it dealt with contract engineers, including supervision at the project site in Alberta nearly 10 years ago.
On April 24, 2007, workers were building a 20-metre high oil tank at the Horizon oilsands project north of Fort McMurray when cables holding up a roof support structure snapped due to high winds. The falling steel structure broke apart, with steel debris striking an electrical consultant, killing him. A scaffolder was crushed and died on the way to the hospital. Two other workers were seriously injured and three others suffered minor injuries.
The two who were killed were foreign workers from China, and among 13 employees trapped by the devastating tank collapse. The engineering association found that the steel cables supporting the roofing structure were inadequate and did not meet regulations.
CNRL guilty of "unprofessional conduct"
"CNRL engaged in unprofessional conduct by failing to ensure that: contractor drawings and procedures were certified by a Professional Engineer as defined by the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act (and) contractors were competent to perform engineering work," said the report released on Jan. 4. "The contractors CNRL used to construct the tanks were not APEGA Permit Holders. The individual who developed the erection procedure for the tank’s roof-support structure was not a Professional Engineer in Alberta."
In addition to the fine, the association says Canadian Natural Resources will have to pay to help develop a new practice standard on outsourcing engineering and geoscience work in the province, and has agreed to sanctions including participation in a province-wide consultation with APEGA members, and paying up to $150,000 for it.
But the association, which is supposed to ensure safe engineering practices in the province, says it decided not to hold a formal hearing into the disaster because of the time that had passed since the accident occurred and because it concluded that the company had cooperated with the investigation.
Canadian Natural Resources said in a statement that it is looking forward to developing the new standards and that a senior member of its leadership team will actively participate and work together with the association on the initiative. The company also said that it had changed its safety practices following the tragedy and now requires contracting companies to provide evidence of qualifications before engineering work is done.
CNRL taking incident "seriously"
"We take every incident seriously," said company spokeswoman Julie Woo in an email. "Following this incident, CNRL took steps to advance our processes to ensure health and safety standards are consistently met by all contractors."
Last February, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety released the results of its investigation into the accident and concluded that the company did not do enough to ensure that one of its contractors had construction plans certified by a professional engineer. The Chinese engineering firm that Canadian Natural Resources contracted out to pled guilty in 2012 to three workplace safety charges, while 29 charges against Canadian Natural were stayed.
Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Co., the Chinese engineering firm that Canadian Natural Resources contracted out to, pled guilty in 2012 to three workplace safety charges, while 29 charges against Canadian Natural Resources were stayed.
Engineering association spokeswoman Gisela Hippolt-Squair said the association is reviewing provincial legislation for the first time in 30 years and plans to recommend increasing the maximum fine for permit holders to $500,000 per violation.
A discipline committee order that accompanied APEGA's report described the incident in detail and named CNRL's conduct as harmful to the "standing of the profession," and displaying "a lack of knowledge or a lack of skill or judgement."
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. Eastern Time to include comments from CNRL.