Investigators, RCMP remain on site following Newfoundland refinery explosion

·3 min read
Three people were airlifted to St. John's following an explosion at the refinery in Come By Chance. Eight people were injured in total, with authorities saying several are in serious condition. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Three people were airlifted to St. John's following an explosion at the refinery in Come By Chance. Eight people were injured in total, with authorities saying several are in serious condition. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)

The company which owns and operates the Come By Chance refinery in Newfoundland says there is still no clue as to the cause of the explosion which sent eight workers to hospital Friday.

Braya Renewable Fuels, owned by Crest Fund Management, said in a release Saturday afternoon that the investigation into the incident was ongoing and that Occupational Health and Safety inspectors and RCMP remain at the refinery.

According to the release, management also remains on site and is cooperating with the investigation.

Braya CEO Frank Almaraz said their "thoughts and prayers are with those injured and their families."

8 injured, 5 airlifted to St. John's

Five of the eight people injured in the explosion have now been airlifted to St. John's to be treated for serious injuries, according to a Saturday release from Eastern Health.

Previously only three had been taken to St. John's, while the other five stayed in the Clarenville hospital for the night.

One person has since been treated and released.

The cause and exact location of the explosion have not been released, but the company that operates the refinery and the RCMP both say the resulting fire was under control soon after the incident occurred.

The explosion happened shortly after 4 p.m. on Friday and multiple ambulances were seen coming and going from the refinery over the next two hours. All eight injured workers were first transported to Clarenville, about a 30-minute drive west of the refinery.

Around 8:30 p.m., two helicopters landed in a Sobeys parking lot near the hospital and three patients were loaded abord for the short flight to St. John's, about 180 kilometres southeast.

The patients had towels on their faces and were hooked up to an array of medical equipment upon arrival at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.

The explosion has sent shock waves throughout the small town of Come By Chance, which has about 200 residents.

Mayor Carol Molloy didn't have information on how the explosion happened, but said people are doing their best to help each other through the situation.

"Everyone comes together," Molloy said. "Certainly as you can appreciate in a town this size, everybody knows everybody. Coming together and certainly standing together and always being there to support each other is key."

Braya Renewable Fuels, which operates the refinery, confirmed the incident just after 6 p.m., and said it's working with the proper authorities.

"We will do everything we can to support [the injured] and their families during this time," the statement read. "The authorities have been notified and we will cooperate fully with their investigation."

Ryan Cooke/CBC
Ryan Cooke/CBC

Refinery switching to renewables

Cresta Fund Management, a private equity firm in the United States, bought a controlling stake in the refinery in 2021 with the goal to switch it to producing aviation fuel and diesel from used cooking oil, corn oil and animal fat.

The firm has also renamed the plant, operating as Braya Renewable Fuels.

CEO Frank Almaraz told CBC News last winter that the plan was to reopen the refinery by late summer or early fall, with a daily output of up to 18,000 barrels produced by 200 full-time workers. Preparation work was still underway on Friday when the explosion took place.

The refinery was the site of another explosion in 1998, when two workers were killed and one other was injured. It was operated by North Atlantic Refining Ltd. at the time, and the company was charged with 17 offences under various provincial acts.

Politicians send support

Premier Andrew Furey took to Twitter on Friday evening to express his concern for the workers and their families.

"Very sorry to hear about the incident at the Come By Chance refinery," he wrote. "I have been speaking with representatives of the company and union to share concern and good wishes for the injured workers, their families, friends, and coworkers. Thank you to all responding to this incident."

Seamus O'Regan, the federal minister of labour, also posted on Twitter, saying: "We're all thinking of the injured workers at the Come By Chance refinery, and their families."

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