Lethal lies

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Lethal lies
Fri, 09/13/2019 - 14:14

Oil bosses force workers to lie about dangers to keep their jobs


MATTHEW LINNITT HAD TO RUN FOR HIS LIFE AND LIE ABOUT IT. It was the only way he could save himself and his job.

Glad to be alive: Matthew Linnitt with his two sons

MATTHEW LINNITT HAD TO RUN FOR HIS LIFE AND LIE ABOUT IT. It was the only way he could save himself and his job.

Matthew was working on an oil well in northwestern Alberta in May 2016. He was left alone. He shouldn’t have been. He thought the well was properly capped. It wasn’t. A geyser of toxic sour gas spewed out of the well. He searched for the site’s emergency breathing equipment. There was none. He ran for his life.

Matthew saved himself. He knew he was lucky to be alive. No thanks to the company he worked for, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL). He knew the company was guilty of multiple safety violations at the well. He also knew telling the truth about it could cost him his job.

Tell lies; keep your job

The company sent a supervisor to fill out an accident report. The supervisor told Matthew to lie on his report if he wanted to keep working.

Matthew initially agreed to lie on the report. He changed his mind two months later.

“The reality was that I could have died where that incident occurred, and to sweep something like that under the rug… the next guy was just going to die,” explained Matthew.

Matthew filed an official complaint with the CRNL human resources department. He wrote: “I was instructed to rewrite the report and include that I was packed up. If I did not (a senior executive) would want someone fired. So I rewrote the report. I lied and said that I packed up when in fact I did not. I couldn’t have. There was no emergency air on site.”

A ‘systemic cancer’

Journalists also discovered several other oil industry workers who reported similar safety violation cover ups. But none would go public. They all feared being fired and blacklisted by Canada’s major oil companies.

One anonymous worker from Saskatchewan revealed he lied at least 20 times on safety forms between 2006 and 2017. The last time was when he lied to conceal the real cause of a career-ending injury he suffered on a rig.

He stressed that the problem of falsifying safety reports “is not only a problem with certain employers, it is a systemic cancer in the oilfield work culture.” He said the pressure to lie nearly always comes “from above” and is delivered verbally, making it hard to prove afterwards.

Employer fails to report death

Exposure to sour gas killed 38-year-old Michael Bunz on May 22, 2014. Michael was struck down by a lethal torrent of sour gas when a tank he was working on burst. The company he worked for was so lax in its safety reporting that its report on the incident failed to mention Michael was dead.

Allan Bunz, Michael’s father, said he learned more about the danger of sour gas when he was working on a pig farm. “Every person had to wear a hydrogen sulfide monitor. And I’m talking about the pig industry,” explained Allan. “To me, they were protecting us … more at this simple small hog operation in Saskatchewan than the oil industry ever did the entire time I was working out there.”

Toothless regulators

Regulation of the oil industry is so weak that companies are almost never held to account for safety violations. An investigation by the Toronto Star found evidence strongly suggesting that the government in Saskatchewan collaborated with industry to suppress information about sour gas hot spots.

Even when the Saskatchewan government proposed imposing modest fines for sour gas emission breaches, industry groups squashed the move.

Authorities in Alberta and Saskatchewan confirmed that not a single company in the oil and gas industry has ever been prosecuted for falsifying safety reports.

There is definitely something rotten in the Canadian oil and gas industry and it is not just the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide.

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