Mine fatality adds to pressure for Suncor Energy changes

The Fort Hills oilsands mine, in northern Alberta, Canada. (Image courtesy of Suncor Energy.)

A worker was killed at Suncor Energy Inc.’s Base Plant mine in northern Alberta, the latest in a series of accidents that have shaken confidence in Canada’s biggest oil-sands producer and led to calls for changes in management.

A contractor’s employee died at the site early Thursday, Suncor spokesman Leithan Slade said in an email. The victim was a 26-year-old man from Fort McMurray, Alberta, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In April, Suncor investor Elliott Investment Management LP called for five directors to be added to the producer’s board and sought a management review after operational mishaps and accidents at its oil-sands projects caused the company to miss production targets. A truck accident in January killed a contractor and injured two others at the Base Plant mine. In June of last year, a person was killed at the Syncrude mine, and two deaths happened in December 2020 at the Fort Hills mine.

Suncor’s safety record has been a contributing factor to its poor investment returns. The company’s share price has risen about 18% over the past five years, trailing the roughly 79% gain for rival Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.

An email to Elliott about Thursday’s fatality wasn’t immediately returned.

Because of the death, Suncor will postpone a presentation on its oil sands operations, scheduled for July 13, to the fall, according to a company statement.

“We remain committed to improving our safety and operational performance,” the company said. “Today’s tragedy underscores the importance of our work to improve the safety of our operations.”

In June, RBC Capital Markets analyst Greg Pardy upgraded the oil-sands producer to outperform from sector perform and hiked the price target, saying meetings with management “left us encouraged that the company has a tighter grip on the steps required to regain its status as a best-in-class oil sands operator.”

(By Robert Tuttle)


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