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Suncor staffer dies at oil-sands project site

Suncor Oil Sands operation, near where officials were seen taking samples for the Athabasca River, after a pipeline carrying industrial waste water ruptured, Tuesday, March, 26, 2013 in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Brett Gundlock/The Globe and Mail

Suncor Energy Inc., one of Canada's largest energy companies, said an employee has died at its oil-sands site.

The Calgary-based company did not say how the individual died. An investigation is underway, Suncor said. The family has been notified, but Suncor declined to provide the victim's name and gender.

"Suncor Emergency Services personnel responded to a request for service early today after an employee was unable to be located," the company said in a statement. It launched a search and notified the RCMP, and Alberta Occupational Health and Safety.

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The employee was located a few hours later and declared deceased at the scene, Suncor said. It is working with the "appropriate authorities and will complete a full investigation into the cause of the incident."

No other employees were involved, Suncor said.

Suncor has a number of oil-sands sites, including upgrading facilities, mining operations with enormous trucks and diggers, and bitumen extraction projects using drilling techniques. It also has tailings ponds, where wastewater settles, mixed with sand, clay, bitumen, and chemicals. It also has housing camps for workers onsite. The company did not say where the person died.

"We extend our sincere condolences to the family, friends and co-workers," Mark Little, Suncor's executive vice president leading the upstream division, said in a statement. "They are certainly in our thoughts and prayers during this extremely difficult time."

Suncor said its human resources team has "initiated grief counselling activities for family and co-workers of the employee."

A Canadian subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned oil giant Sinopec last January paid a record $1.5-million workplace violation fine for two deaths in 2007. The accident happened in April, 2007, as Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. built its Horizon oil-sands project. Two Chinese workers were struck and killed by falling steel. Five other employees were injured. Two of those had serious injuries. CNRL had contracted SSEC Canada Ltd. – a small arm of Sinopec – to work on Horizon.

SSEC leaded guilty in October, 2012, to three charges under Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

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Oil sands producers experienced one fatality in each of 2011 and 2012, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' 2013 progress report. It is unclear whether this includes employees of contract companies working at oil-sands projects and companies who are not CAPP members.

Three people died at conventional oil and gas operations in Western Canada in 2012, the report said.

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