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The Globe & Mail: Alberta workers sent home after fire at Shell upgrader

November 20, 2007 at 12:25 AM EST

FORT SASKATCHEWAN, Alta. — About 3,000 workers were sent home Monday from Shell Canada’s Scotford upgrader northeast of Edmonton after a fire released hydrogen and sour gas.

It was the second incident involving sour gas at a Shell facility. Earlier in the day, the highly toxic and flammable gas leaked from a Shell pipeline in southwestern Alberta, forcing 10 people from their homes.

The fire occurred late Monday afternoon in the Shell upgrader’s residue hydro conversion unit in Fort Saskatchewan.

Shell spokesman Randy Provencal says the fire at the Scotford plant was contained in about 45 minutes by company fire crews and crews from Strathcona County.

“Emergency crews are still on scene and we are conducting monitoring of ambient air quality,” Mr. Provencal said Monday evening.

“We’ve notified the regulatory agencies and some of them are currently on site.”

Mr. Provencal said the monitoring of the air downwind of the community show no traces of potentially deadly hydrogen sulphide — also known as sour gas due to its rotten egg smell — nor sulphur dioxide.

No one was injured, and no residents were evacuated.

The unit refines bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands into lighter crude oil.

Alberta Environment spokesperson Cheryl Robb said department officials would continue to monitor the situation to make sure there was no threat to the public.

Shell is expected to file a report on the incident, and that the department would investigate further if it deemed necessary, Ms. Robb added.

In the other incident, 10 people were evacuated from their rural homes near the community of Beaver Mines in southwestern Alberta when Shell’s pipeline leaked hydrogen sulphide.

Shell spokesman Larry Lalonde said the leak, west of Pincher Creek, was shut down very quickly and that all the people were allowed to return to their homes late Monday.

The causes of the leak that resulted in the fire, as well as the leak in the pipeline, have not yet been determined.

Mike Judd, one of the people who had to leave home, said he left behind his dogs and horses. He said the Shell employee who came to get him should have been wearing a gas mask, but wasn’t.

Mr. Judd said that Shell maintained during hearings held in September on plans to drill for sour gas near his home that a leak was an extremely rare occurrence. If one did occur, Shell promised to have full control over the situation, Mr. Judd said.

“Shell has no control over where people might be, or which direction the wind will blow,” Mr. Judd said. “Sour gas is one of the most deadliest gases on the planet.”

Davis Sheremata, a spokesman for the Alberta Energy Utilities Board, said that monitoring of sour gas levels from the pipeline leak registered 11 parts per billion, which he said is about one one-thousandth of the level that is usually considered harmful to human health.

No people were injured, Mr. Sheremata said, adding he hadn’t heard any reports of animals being injured. He admitted people were still returning to their homes Monday and it might be too early to say.

Mr. Provencal, meanwhile, warned there will be increased flaring at the Scotford site as it shuts other units down, and said the bright flames are nothing to worry about.

“A lot of people don’t understand flaring. It’s the safe disposal of off-gas,” he explained. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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