OHS Canada Magazine

Oilsands producers step up pandemic measures as outbreaks rise in region


CALGARY — Oilsands companies are stepping up protective measures as a spate of COVID-19 cases sweeps through the region at the same time that thousands of workers are being brought in for spring maintenance shutdowns at various plants.

In Friday’s update, Alberta reported 3,749 active cases in the North Zone that includes Fort McMurray, with outbreaks identified at several work lodges as well as at production facilities operated by oilsands producers including Suncor Energy Inc., Syncrude, Imperial Oil Ltd., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and MEG Energy Corp.

Imperial spokeswoman Lisa Schmidt says the company has six active cases at its Kearl oilsands mine and 35 off-site, with all of the individuals in isolation either in a designated wing at one of its workforce lodges at Kearl or at home.

She says the company started a voluntary vaccination clinic at the site on Monday morning and has implemented a rapid testing program to screen workers before they travel to Kearl, which is just beginning a scheduled maintenance “turnaround.”

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Canadian Natural spokeswoman Julie Woo says the company is also using rapid testing and recently vaccinated more than 1,600 employees and contractors. Some activities during a just-completed turnaround at its Horizon oilsands mine and upgrader were deferred to control the number of staff on site.

Last week, Suncor said it would delay a planned maintenance shutdown at its Base Plant oilsands mine upgrader in view of the outbreaks that led to a state of emergency being declared in the Fort McMurray area.

Alberta tightens rules to prevent looming hospital catastrophe

It said the delay of the turnaround for one of the coker units in the upgrader will allow the company to avoid increasing the number of contractors in the region until similar work at the Syncrude oilsands mine is completed, without affecting production guidance.

Alberta leads Canada in COVID-19 cases and has a seven-day new infection rate twice that as the next highest province, Ontario. It tightened restrictions last week on retail, dining, personal services and gatherings to avoid pushing its health-care system beyond capacity.

It reported 1,980 new infections and 659 COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals, including 150 in intensive care, on Friday.