Canada’s oil sands continue to reel from one of the nations’ biggest outbreaks of COVID-19, with Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. reporting two more worker deaths.
The two individuals, one who worked at the Horizon upgrader site and the other at the Albian oil sands mine, passed away from complications related to COVID-19, company spokesperson Julie Woo said by email. That brings the number of fatalities related to work camps to five since the pandemic began more than a year ago, according to government data.
The oil sands region of Wood Buffalo, including the city of Fort McMurray, has been among the hardest hit regions in Alberta, the province with the highest infection rate in Canada. Almost 2 per cent of the population in the remote area of the province has been infected in recent weeks. A total of 684 people at 15 oil-sands sites or camps are currently infected, with the highest rates at Syncrude Canada Ltd.’s Mildred Lake Village, Canadian Natural’s Horizon and Suncor Energy Inc.’s Baseplant, provincial data show.
Still, thousands of workers are flying into the region to perform maintenance on oil sands machinery even as some companies, including Suncor, delay necessary work.
Canadian Natural completed scheduled maintenance at its Horizon upgrader in early May and staffing levels have since been reduced, Woo said. More than 1,600 workers and contractors have been vaccinated and rapid testing is being used at oil sands mines. “We continue to have significant measures in place to reduce the risk of exposure and transmission of Covid-19 at our work sites,” she said.