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Naphtha leak sets off blaze at Syncrude's Mildred Lake upgrader

Naphtha leak sets off blaze at Syncrude's Mildred Lake upgrader

An explosion and fire at Syncrude's Mildred Lake upgrader on Tuesday has crippled the facility and sent one man to hospital.

One Syncrude worker was seriously injured in the incident, although the company did not provide an update on the extent of his injuries. A spokesperson for Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) says the employee is in stable condition in an Edmonton hospital.

According to the company, the fire was set-off by a leaking naphtha line. Workers reported hearing a loud bang and seeing plumes of black smoke coming from Plant 13-1, Mildred Lake's hydrotreating plant. The fire was brought under control in less than four hours. The company burned off residual hydrocarbons for about 2 days before the fire was extinguished on Thursday morning.

The rest of Syncrude’s operations remain stable with parts of the upgrader either shut down or running at reduced rates. Bitumen production at both the Mildred Lake and Aurora mines have also been turned-down to match the upgrader's output.

Syncrude has warned nearby residents that it will be flaring natural gas, hydrogen and possibly hydrogen sulphide "in a safe manner." Investigation teams have not yet been able to get close enough to assess the damage. Both OH&S and the Alberta Energy Regulator will be assisting in the investigation.

Majority owner Suncor confirmed the facility is currently running at minimal rates but did not provide production guidance. Traders have been advised output from Syncrude will be reduced by 50% for the rest of March and into April.

This is Syncrude's second fire in two years. An upgrader explosion in March 2015 cut production by 80% for several months. 

The Mildred Lake upgrader is the largest in Alberta, with a bitumen processing capacity of 350,000 bbl/day. The upgrader produces light, sweet synthetic crude. Mildred Lake was scheduled to go down for an extended maintenance shutdown from late April until June. The facility is located about 40 kilometers north of Fort McMurray

Syncrude is operated by Imperial Oil under a service agreement signed in 2006.

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