CALGARY — Nexen Energy is placing some of the blame for a fatal January explosion on the two workers who died in the blast, something at least one of the families has called a "disgrace."
Ron Bailey, head of Canadian operations at Nexen, said that after an extensive investigation the company found that the explosion at the Long Lake oilsands facility in Alberta was caused by staff doing work they weren't supposed to be doing. Damage by the blast is expected to result in 350 layoffs.
"Our investigation indicates that the incident was a result of work being performed outside the scope of approved work activities," said Bailey at a news conference Tuesday.
But he said the company, a wholly subsidiary of Chinese state-owned firm CNOOC Ltd., couldn't release further details about the incident — which led to the deaths of Dave Williams, 30, and Drew Foster, 52 — because Alberta Occupational Health and Safety is still working on their own investigation.
A brother of one of the deceased, Archie Williams, however says that he doesn't want his sibling remembered as being responsible for the accident, and doesn't think the company should be blaming him.
"It's a disgrace what they've done," said Williams, who worked at the Long Lake site himself from 2008 to 2014.
He pointed out that the company had assigned his brother to the hydrocracker unit on Jan. 15 while on an overtime shift, even though his usual work area was the water treatment plant.
He's convinced his brother didn't cause the explosion because he was found at the entrance to the facility, well away from the blast site, with no broken bones and only burns to the front of his body.
He says Nexen invited the family to fly to Calgary and speak in person, but was disappointed the company didn't come out to see them in Scotchtown, N.S.
"They have no respect," said Williams. "They can't fly out here to talk to us face to face? We lost my brother, my parents' son, in a tragic accident, and they're wanting us to fly across the country."
At the news conference Tuesday, Nexen chief executive Fang Zhi expressed his "deepest sympathies" to the families of the Nexen employees who died, without naming those employees, and said the company was making changes to safety management and procedures.
"As a responsible operator, we are fully accountable for the conduct of work of any of the individuals that are on our site," said Zhi. "We failed ourselves, our employees, and the community around us, through those two incidents."
Zhi also took accountability for a pipeline leak last July that spilled about five million litres of bitumen, sand and produced water.
After investigating its pipeline leak, Nexen determined that it was the result of an incompatible pipeline design for the muskeg ground conditions.
At the news conference, Bailey explained that because there was not enough soil on top of the recently-installed pipeline, as the high-pressure pipe went through temperature fluctuations, it began to buckle.
He said the company identified deficiencies in engineering, construction and operation that the company takes accountability for, but that the investigation also found a number of failings on the part of contractors and subcontractors during the design, construction and installation of the pipeline.
The Alberta Energy Regulator's investigation into the pipeline spill continues, and in the meantime all pipes of the type that were involved in the spill on-site have been deactivated.
Nexen says that it has also indefinitely idled the upgrader portion of the Long Lake facility after determining there is no short-term fix to the damaged caused by the January blast.
The decision means the company will lay off about 350 employees at the Long Lake site and in Calgary by the end of the year.
But Bailey said the steam-based oil extraction at the site will continue, ramping up in about a month to roughly 27,000 barrels a day from the 15,000 barrels a day it currently produces.