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Suncor must stop diagnosing and start executing workplace safety changes: Interim CEO

The new interim CEO of Suncor Energy Inc. says the oil and gas giant is ready to stop studying its workplace safety problem and start implementing solutions instead.

The new interim CEO of Suncor Energy Inc. says the oil and gas giant is ready to stop studying its workplace safety problem and start implementing solutions instead.

Kris Smith, who took the helm of the Canadian oil and gas producer in the wake of the departure of former CEO Mark Little — who stepped down last month one day after the death of a worker at Suncor’s Base Mine near Fort McMurray, Alta. — made the comments Friday during what was his first quarterly conference call with analysts since assuming his new role.

“We completed an independent safety assessment last year, and we’re clear on what we need to do to improve our safety performance,” Smith said. “We do not need more diagnosis, but what we do need to do is execute.”

At least 12 workplace deaths have occurred at Suncor sites since 2014, more than all the company’s oilsands peers combined.

Earlier this spring, Suncor’s safety performance — as well as a spate of recent operational and production problems — caught the attention of U.S.-based activist investor Elliot Investment Management, which publicly laid out its case for change at the Calgary-headquartered company.

Last month, Suncor announced it had reached a deal with Elliot that includes the appointment of three new independent directors to Suncor’s board, as well as a review of Suncor’s retail chain of Petro-Canada gas stations — a review that could culminate in the sale of that business.

Smith said Suncor is implementing new technology at its oilsands sites, such as collision awareness and driver safety systems, that should help to improve workplace safety.

But he said while technology is an important tool, addressing the company’s safety culture on the front lines will be even more important.

“If I go back to the incidents that we have had, it’s been how the work has been executed in the field,” Smith said. “While technology will be a huge enabler … it’s really about enabling and engaging to ensure that work is happening safely each and every day in the field.

“And so that’s really, I think, the area in my view, that needs focus and attention.”

Suncor Inc. reported late Thursday that it earned $3.99 billion in the second quarter of 2022, or $2.84 per common share, more than four and a half times the $868 million it earned in the same period of 2021.

The Calgary-based oil producer and refiner said its adjusted funds from operations hit $5.35 billion in the quarter, the highest in the company’s history by 33 per cent, as the war in Ukraine drove crude oil prices sky-high.

Production from the company’s oilsands assets increased to 641,500 barrels per day in the second quarter, up from to 615,700 bpd in the prior-year quarter, due to increased production at its Syncrude and Fort Hills sites.

Refinery crude throughput increased to 389,300 barrels per day and refinery utilization was 84 per cent in the second quarter of 2022, compared to 325,300 barrels per day and 70 per cent in the prior-year quarter.

The company also said Thursday it has reached an agreement for the sale of its Norway assets, pending regulatory approval, for gross proceeds of approximately $410 million. The sale is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2022.