Canadian Natural investigates fire at Horizon Oil Sands facility, works to repair

By Phaedra Friend Troy

Canadian Natural Resources is working with authorities to determine the cause of the fire that ignited at its Horizon Oil Sands refinery near Alberta.

On the afternoon of Thursday, January 6, a fire broke out at Horizon upgrader, which refines the heavy bitumen into synthetic crude oil. Specifically, the fire ignited the top of the coke drum 1B, commonly referred to as the cutting deck.

The blaze was allowed to burn itself out as a safety precaution, which took nearly four hours. Five workers were injured by the explosion, one of which remains in the hospital in stable condition.

The company is working with the Occupational Health and Safety organization to determine the cause of the accident. Additionally, Canadian Natural has enacted a Recovery team to begin planning the work necessary to repair and replace damaged equipment and restart the Horizon Oil Sands facility.

Working to Restart Horizon Oil Sands Facility

Until full access if granted, Canadian Natural cannot totally assess the damage sustained by the fire; although the company is doing everything it can to expedite the refinery restart.

Currently, workers have been given access to areas around the damaged upgrader to flush and winterize the equipment.

A photographic survey of the cokers is planned for January 11 to better understand the extent of the damage to the derrick infrastructure.

Within days, OH&S is expected to grant access to the upper decks of the cokers so that Canadian Natural can assess structural stability and figure out what infrastructure needs to be replaced.

In the mean time, Canadian Natural has begun the procurement process to acquire replacement components and parts needed to repair the cutting deck and derrick infrastructure above coke drums 1A and B.

Additionally, the company hopes that it can start two of the four coke drums (2A and 2B) before the damaged coke drums are repaired, bringing the facility to a 50 percent production capacity in a more timely manner.

Furthermore, Canadian Natural plans to address planned maintenance while undertaking repairs, reducing maintenance downtime in the future.

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