Horizon looks at shorter restart after upgrader fire

Canadian Natural Resources says production may be restored to half capacity sooner than its Horizon upgrader site after a fire Jan. 6.

January 10, 2011   by PLANT STAFF

The explosion in the coking unit of the Horizon has halted all oil sands production at Horizon to grind to a halt.

Photo: Canadian Natural Resources

CALGARY: Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is (CNR) continuing to investigate the cause of a fire at its primary Horizon bitumen upgrader Jan. 6 that injured five workers, but production may be restored to half capacity sooner than expected.

The company said in an update released today that four of the injured workers were medically cleared on the day of the fire, while the fifth remains in hospital in stable condition. Horizon workers returned to their regular shifts on Jan. 7.

The Alberta labour ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) department ordered the Calgary-based oil sands developer to stop work at its Horizon site near Fort McKay, Alta., until it’s deemed safe.

Investigators from OH&S and the company continue to look for a cause of the fire that broke out at the top of one of four coke drums, an area called the cutting deck, and burned itself out after three hours and 45 minutes.

A CNR recovery team has also been in place since Jan. 7 to plan repairs and reinstate the equipment derrick infrastructure damaged by the fire.

The company said two coke drums (2 A and 2 B) still have electronic and instrument communication capabilities, which suggests damage to them was minimal. Evaluation of 1 A and 1 B (where the fire broke out) continues, but visual observations indicate damage to all four coke drums may be minimal, with most of it located above the cutting deck and derrick infrastructure of 1 B.

CNR will conduct a photographic survey of the cokers tomorrow to determine the extent of the damage to the derrick infrastructure and it has started the procurement process for replacement components and parts.

The company said it’s possible the other two coke drums will be started up in a shorter time frame allowing the Horizon plant to run at roughly half of its 110,000-barrel-a-day capacity.

In the meantime, the company intends to address a “maintenance backlog” and get ahead of some turnaround work to reduce future maintenance downtime.

CNR said air monitoring at and around the Horizon site, including Fort McKay, show air quality at levels between 5 and 7 out of a scale of 100. Readings below 25 are considered to be good air quality by Alberta Environment.

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