Operational issues 2011-2012 - Suncor's 2013 Report on Sustainability

Operational issues 2011-2012 - Suncor's 2013 Report on Sustainability

Operational issues 2011-2012 - Suncor's 2013 Report on Sustainability

Operational issues 2011-2012 - Suncor's 2013 Report on Sustainability

View the latest Report on Sustainability

Operational issues 2012 – 2013

Suncor prides itself on setting high performance standards and striving to achieve operational excellence. However, there are times when we fail to live up to our own expectations, and those of our stakeholders.

The following are brief descriptions of the major incidents that occurred between May 1, 2012 and May 1, 2013.

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Unplanned maintenance on oil sands upgrader

As a result of unplanned maintenance at Suncor’s Oil Sands base plant in October and early November 2012, oil sands production during this period was lower than anticipated, averaging approximately 330,000 and 312,000 barrels per day (bbls/d) respectively in these months. Maintenance issues were successfully resolved and the oil sands plant exited the month of November producing in excess of 380,000 bbls/d.

Investigation into Altares well blowout and fire

In March 2013, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission released a report on its investigation into an oil well blowout and fire that occurred at the Suncor well site in the Altares field, 69 kilometres west of Fort St. John, B.C in early 2012. One minor injury was suffered and the crew member returned to work the next day. The commission determined that the root cause of the incident was a lack of adequate well control procedures. Gaps in the drilling rig crew’s training and experience related to drilling deep, high-pressure gas wells were cited as contributing factors.

The report detailed directions that were provided to Suncor, as well as Suncor's responses as of January 2013, in three key areas:

  • ensuring all well site personnel are adequately trained and competent
  • ensuring well control procedures are clear, unambiguous and appropriate
  • ensuring site-specific risks and mitigation strategies are clearly communicated to well site personnel

The commission also approached industry bodies to address the identified gap in well training courses.

No penalty was issued as Suncor had effectively complied with all of the commission’s recommendations. The company also shared lessons learned and the key recommendations with staff across the enterprise, as well as with external parties and industry partners.

Break in frozen process water line

On March 25, 2013, a four-inch diameter line, approximately 10 feet in length, froze and broke at our Oil Sands base plant. The line contained process affected water (water used in our operations). An estimated 350 cubic metres of the process affected water was released into the Athabasca River over about a 10-hour period. As soon as we realized there was a discharge into the river, work immediately began to stop the flow.

In the days that followed, we worked with third parties to test the process affected water before and after it entered the river. The tests confirmed the process affected water was a combination of water with suspended solids (clays and fine particulates) and inorganic and organic compounds. It did not contain bitumen. This process affected water was mixed with treated water prior to entering the river. The ratio was approximately six parts treated water to one part process affected water.

Water quality tests showed that the diluted process affected water released to the river would be within our regulatory approvals (approval limits identified for certain discharge points). The content of the process affected water included trace amounts of oil and grease, total suspended solids and ammonia.

Bioassay tests, which look at effects on living organisms, were also conducted at multiple points upstream and downstream from the release. Interim results for samples taken near Fort McKay, approximately 15 kilometres downstream from Suncor’s operations, indicate the released water had no detrimental impact on aquatic life.

Water quality is extremely important to Suncor, our neighbours and our communities. Any unintended release is unacceptable to us. This incident is deeply disappointing and we continue to do everything we can to understand how this happened and to prevent it from happening again. We are committed to keeping our stakeholders informed about what we learn and how we are responding.

Burrard terminal leak

On April 6, 2013, workers at our Burrard Products Terminal, located in Port Moody, B.C., discovered a leak of a product called R100 from one of our storage tanks at the terminal. Our emergency response was immediately activated.

R100 is a non-fossil fuel, soybean-based blending agent that is biodegradable. Two hundred and twenty-five (225) barrels of R100 leaked from a tank within the Burrard Products Terminal property. We believe a very small amount — approximately two litres — may have reached the waters of the Burrard Inlet. Three levels of booms were set up in the Inlet to contain any R100. Steps, such as trenching around the tank and blocking storm water sewers, were taken to prevent any further material from reaching the water, and work is underway to recover as much of the product as possible.

The incident was reported to regulators, and we conducted our own internal investigation. We understand the heightened concern from the community and our stakeholders about this incident and recognize that our communication process should be more robust. We continue to work with the regulators and our stakeholders to improve this process.

We take any unplanned release seriously. Our top priority is the safety of our employees and the public and to minimize the impact on the environment.

Edmonton refinery leak

On April 16, 2013 Suncor responded to a report of foam being discharged from the outfall pond at our Edmonton refinery. This pond contains water that is intended and approved for discharge to the North Saskatchewan River. The release was a combination of water intended for discharge and a biodegradable cleaning product.

Our emergency response was immediately activated and an investigation launched. We closed the outfall pond approximately 70 minutes after the first report, and we took samples of materials released to the river.

We have fully reported to the appropriate regulatory agencies and are working co-operatively with them. We’ve also worked to keep local stakeholders informed.

Updates on historical events

Below are updates on issues that occurred in previous years.

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Suncor pleads guilty to drilling mud spill

In October 2012, Suncor pleaded guilty to a spill of synthetic-based drilling mud (SBM), an offence under section 161 of the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act. The incident occurred on March 28, 2011, when the mobile offshore drilling unit Henry Goodrich was drilling a well at the Ballicatters site, located in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin. The investigation has concluded that 26.4 m3 of SBM were spilled.

SBM is a material used regularly in the drilling process. It is a product containing petroleum, which is non-toxic to humans and the marine environment and is approved for use and limited discharge as residual on drilling cuttings after treatment.

The incident occurred when personnel were changing over from mud storage tank cleaning to circulating mud in the well. Immediate measures were taken to stop the release. That same day, water and bottom sediment samples were collected and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) survey was conducted.

Suncor regrets that this event happened and, as operator of the Ballicatters well, accepts responsibility for this incident. This type of discharge should not have occurred. We have worked hard to address the factors that contributed to this event. A number of equipment and process changes were subsequently implemented to help prevent future occurrences. These include the installation of an additional valve in the mud discharge system and adding a padlock to an existing valve in the system. Both valves require a specific permit to obtain the key and operate the valves. Additional focus has been placed on staff training and orientation.

Suncor paid a $30,000 fine and made a contribution of $100,000 to the Environmental Damages Fund — a fund that supports sustainable environmental initiatives.

We take this event very seriously, and are being diligent in our efforts to ensure this does not happen again.

Alberta enforcement order

Within days of the March 25, 2013 process affected water release, Suncor was advised of an enforcement order issued by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) in connection with a March 24, 2011 water sampling. Water test results from a separate outfall pond did not meet regulatory requirements on that date, and the outfall pond was immediately closed. It has remained closed since that time. Prior to reopening the outfall, the enforcement order calls for us to develop further and more detailed monitoring and sampling plans, implement the plans and engage a third-party audit of the systems involved, as well as provide periodic reports to the regulator. We fully support the plans outlined in the order, and will be working hard to implement the actions identified by the regulator.