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Edmonton Sun: Up to 600 employees evacuated from Shell plant Toxic sour gas leak near Fort Saskatchewan

By BROOKES MERRITT, Staff Writer
September 8, 2006

Shell Canada is blaming a contractor hired to warn people of mishaps at a Fort Saskatchewan plant for failing to notify nearby residents of a toxic sour gas leak in a timely fashion.

The leak caused a brief fire inside Shell’s Scotford upgrader around 11:30 a.m. Thursday before the excess gas was properly vented and burned off through a flare.

No one was injured, but up to 600 employees were evacuated from the plant.

None of the homes or businesses near the facility – about 12 km east of Fort Saskatchewan – needed to be evacuated.

Shell Scotford spokesman Randy Provencal said the leak was in the sulfur recovery unit, where gas is removed from bitumen for use in other petroleum-based products.

“A third-party (firm) sent out the routine, precautionary calls to neighbours asking them to stay indoors while we assessed the situation,” he said.

“But something went awry and the call didn’t make it to all the people as fast as we would have liked. We’re looking into it to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Fort Saskatchewan officials and members of the Northeast Capital Industrial Association received no complaints from residents about the slow warning of the leak.

Darin Barter of the Energy Utilities Board – which is investigating the incident – agreed it was relatively minor, but that it could indicate Shell’s need to improve communications with nearby residents.

“Sour gas is dangerous, but we’ve been developing it in Alberta for over 50 years.

“In this case people shouldn’t be worried about being affected by the sour gas. None was detected outside plant.”

He said the EUB will continue to investigate what happened, as well as Shell’s response to incident, which is the “normal course of action in any case like this.”

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