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Mark Little prepares to address the company's annual meeting in Calgary on May 2, 2019. Mr. Little has stepped down as the company's president and CEO.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Suncor Energy Inc.’s chief executive officer has resigned, one day after the latest fatality at one of the company’s oil sands facilities.

The Calgary-based company announced on Friday evening that Mark Little will step down as president and CEO and resign from the board effective immediately. Kris Smith, who is currently executive vice-president of downstream operations, has been named interim CEO.

The move comes just months after activist investor Elliott Investment Management LP, a hedge fund, cited the company’s safety record in a bid for change at the pioneering oil sands producer, including an overhaul of the board and management.

The death on Thursday of a contractor at the Base Mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta., was the second this year at a Suncor facility. Since 2014, at least 12 people have died at Suncor sites, more than all of the company’s oil sands rivals combined.

After the incident, Suncor cancelled an oil sands operations presentation scheduled for next week, which was in part intended to showcase its actions and plans to improve its performance and safety record.

Mr. Little said in May that the company had made a host of changes, including a third-party safety review, bringing on new management and incorporating new fatigue management and collision avoidance technology at its oil sands sites to reduce risk to workers and contractors.

It is also rolling out collision-mitigation technology commonly used in the global mining industry across its entire oil sands operations, after a worker was killed and two others injured in January when two heavy trucks collided while driving up a mine ramp.

Earlier this year, analysts had expressed concern that the death, and other operational incidents that had affected production since the beginning of the winter, underscored problems with the company’s track record. The operational incidents – one at its Syncrude mine, the other at its Firebag operation – cut production by about 195,000 barrels a day in the latter half of December.

As a result of the cut, overall annual production in 2021 came in about 1 per cent below the company’s target of 740,000 barrels per bay.

Suncor said on Friday its board had formed a CEO search committee, and is engaging a global executive recruiting firm to assist with this process.

“Suncor is committed to achieving safety and operational excellence across our business, and we must acknowledge where we have fallen short and recognize the critical need for change,” board chair Michael Wilson said in a statement Friday.

“We commend Mark for his professionalism and the exceptional work he did to guide Suncor through the pandemic and lead our sector’s progressive approach to the energy transition. We thank him for his years of service with the company and wish him well.”

Mr. Little joined Suncor in 2008 as its senior vice-president of strategic growth and energy trading before becoming the senior vice-president of integration following Suncor’s merger with Petro‑Canada.

He was appointed CEO in 2019.

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