Aug 20, 2019
The advice may not have been specific, but oilpatch contractor Matthew Linnitt states he knew what he was "supposed" to do: lie on official records about an event that could have killed him, or someone would be fired.
The unspoken threat, he alleges, was delivered down by his director at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) after a close call with hydrogen sulfide on a northwestern Alberta well site on May 2, 2016.
Hydrogen sulfide, also known as H2S or sour gas, is a toxic substance that can be lethal in high concentrations and is sometimes leaked from the wellheads, pump jacks, pipes, tanks and flare stacks of oilfields.
At the time, Linnitt counted himself fortunate to have fled with his life — he was operating alone on a remote site when a fountain of fluids and poisonous sour gas exploded from its depths. A valve hadn’t been suitably shut down.
He sought for the site’s emergency breathing apparatus, only to find that the operators who had inappropriately sealed the valve had also taken the air packs off-site. Without cell service, Linnitt ran far away from the fumes and lingered away until his air monitor told him the sour gas levels no longer posed a menace.
He later encountered a challenging decision: he could communicate what happened and risk being discharged for revealing that CNRL had broken safety rules, or he could lie to protect his position.
Linnitt said he chose to lie in his incident report to the organization, writing that he used the site’s emergency breathing devices after the spill.
He is no longer amenable to live with that deception. He’s not alone: in the course of National Observer and Global News talked with five current and former construction, oil and gas operators in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada.
All confessed to having falsified or disregarded details on official reports about health and safety incidents, or to observing someone else do it to avoid being terminated.
Despite claims made by the five current and former operators, regulators in Alberta and Saskatchewan established in emailed communications that no oil company has ever been charged or punished for knowingly filing inaccurate or misleading news on official reports. In Alberta, the regulator also writes that proper reporting is a “pillar” of the law, prompting it to study prosecutions if false reporting is found.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), which represents the oil and gas industry nationwide, declined to talk on this inquiry, citing lack of evidence to imply the practice of filing misleading reports is comprehensive.
That the operators say the dishonesty occurs under the table is, according to industry watchers, not only an implication that the industry’s oversight administration may be permitting businesses to endanger mechanics, but also part of a diminished oilpatch safety culture of silence that favors profit over workers.
In the oilpatch, good safety habits and safety training can be a matter of life and death. Since 2017, at least five have been killed in the field at sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan. This includes one worker in Alberta who died in May 2018 following exposure to H2S, according to a provincial operator safety report.
The words may not have been explicit, but oilpatch contractor Matthew Linnitt says he read between the lines: lie on official documents about an incident that could have killed him, or someone would be fired.
The tacit threat, he alleges, was handed down by his supervisor at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) after a close call with hydrogen sulfide on a northwestern Alberta well site on May 2, 2016.
Hydrogen sulfide, also known as H2S or sour gas, is a toxic substance that can be fatal in high concentrations, and is sometimes leaked from the wellheads, pump jacks, pipes, tanks and flare stacks of oilfields.