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Suncor's Syncrude Canada to pay C$390,000 after worker fatality

Border city's industry under threat with looming pipeline closure

By Nia Williams

(Reuters) -Oil sands producer Syncrude Canada, majority-owned by Suncor Energy, will pay C$390,000 ($287,187.04) after pleading guilty to a health and safety charge relating to the death of a worker on one of its sites in June 2021, the Alberta government said on Monday.

The worker had been operating an excavator to build a berm at a site near Fort McKay in northern Alberta when the bank the excavator was on slumped into water, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety said in a statement. The excavator cab became submerged and the worker drowned.

It was one of five deaths at oil sands sites run by Suncor, Canada's second-largest oil producer, between late 2020 and mid-2022. The fatalities contributed to pressure from U.S.-based activist investment firm Elliot to overhaul management and operations at Suncor, and prompted the resignation of former CEO Mark Little.

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Syncrude Canada pleaded guilty on April 4 to one charge of failing to ensure the health and safety of a worker, while four other charges brought under the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act were withdrawn.

Under a scheme known as creative sentencing, the company will pay C$390,000 to two University of Alberta centers and the Alberta Municipal Health and Safety Association to help develop safer practices around trenching and excavation work.

Suncor is facing a separate set of charges, laid on March 29, related to the death of another worker, Brandon Nelson, in July 2022 in Fort McMurray.

In that incident, the worker was struck by a piece of equipment that fell from a crane, according to the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety website.

"That matter is now before the courts and we are going to review the charges and determine the next steps," said Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal, adding there had been a thorough investigation following the fatality.

"Our safety procedures did not meet our expectations."

In the company's annual report, released last month, CEO Rich Kruger said there had been no deaths or life-threatening injuries in 2023.

($1 = 1.3580 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia; Editing by Leslie Adler and Marguerita Choy)