Suncor Case Study: Process Safety and Environmental Excellence as Cornerstones of Success in The Oil Industry

Published: 2013



Suncor is an integrated energy company with diverse operations including off-shore oil production, oil sands and in situ production and downstream operations. In 2012, the company produced an average of 549,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day.


In 2003, Suncor collaborated with dss+ to develop their Journey to Zero program for employee safety. As part of the Journey to Zero program, Suncor utilized the dss+ Safety Perception Survey™ to assess their safety culture and had their leaders conduct Future State Visioning workshops throughout their organization. The Journey to Zero program helped to significantly improve the safety performance in Suncor, most notably by reducing the number of recordable injuries. Journey to Zero has become a cornerstone of the Suncor culture. However, Suncor realized that additional systems were required to improve the management of significant risks in their operations.


The company did not have an integrated corporate Process Safety Management (PSM) process in place or its supporting metrics. The various operating units were pursuing process safety management using different points of reference. For example, their oil sands operation was pioneering new technologies, and in the process, was experiencing significant process safety incidents that resulted in major production outages. Suncor set out on a path to manage risk with a systemic approach to reduce the likelihood of a major process incident.


DuPont has been a safety leader since the early 1900’s, and their goal is zero; not just zero injuries but also zero environmental incidents. Gord Lambert, Vice President, Sustainable Development at Suncor, was aware of the capabilities that dss+ could bring to the engagement. 

“The progress we had to make on safety and environment had to be aggressive. We wanted to partner with a firm that had the scale to be able to work with us on a corporate wide level. DuPont, being one of the largest safety consultancies in the world, had that scalability for us.”

Gord Lambert, Vice President, Sustainable Development at Suncor

Process safety and environmental excellence


In 2008, dss+ entered into a strategic partnership with Suncor to provide consulting services in the areas of environmental excellence and process safety. dss+ conducted a risk assessment and developed two action plans based on the evaluation –


  •    Creation and implementation of PSM standards
  • Creation of a Corporate Environmental Plan


Creation and implementation of PSM standards


The key to effective PSM is applying management systems (including standards, procedures, training, and audits) in a systematic way so that potential process hazards are identified, understood and controlled. The process safety work focused on changing the culture and implementing a management process with a supporting set of standards.


The creation of PSM standards was initiated in early 2009 using DuPont standards as a starting point. dss+ helped to guide a process that received input from various sites in an attempt to create ownership for the standards. The Suncor standards were completely developed by mid-2009. dss+ then worked with Suncor’s corporate team to develop guidance documents which the sites used to develop their procedures.


Spreading PSM across the enterprise


In mid-2009 Suncor acquired Petro-Canada which doubled the size of the company. Suncor wanted to move towards creating a common culture across the company and dss+ helped them develop a strategy for the implementation of PSM across the newly integrated company. In November 2009, a plan was approved to implement PSM in 13 operating units across North America – oil sands mining, extraction and upgrading, oil sands in situ, natural gas operations, 4 refineries, lubricants production, off-shore oil production, distribution, pipelines and ethanol production.


dss+ worked with Suncor to prioritize the implementation of PSM. The dss+ cultural change model of Assess/Envision/Plan/Implement was used to guide the work. The Assess phase developed a clear understanding of Suncor’s present state and the gaps that needed to be closed. In several instances, a visit to a DuPont site was utilized to help the Suncor team with the Envision step.


Oil industry and its implications on environment


The production or the trade of oil to fuel economies can cause damage to the environment. Suncor’s vision is to be the trusted steward of valuable natural resources. Guided by its values, it wants to lead the way to deliver economic prosperity, improved social well-being and a healthy environment for today and tomorrow.


The implementation process involved the creation of a Site Steering Team with strong leadership involvement to drive the process. This implementation required the consideration of a range of cultures across Suncor’s operations. The refineries were mature operations with stable organizations. The oil sands organization was rapidly growing posing new operational challenges. In addition, the Natural Gas, Pipelines and Distribution organizations were spread out over a large geographic area which also presented challenges in engaging across the organization.


Creation of a Corporate Environmental Plan


Suncor identified Environmental Excellence as one of the key drivers of its Operational Excellence Strategy. As part of its strategic consulting services, dss+ helped Suncor create a Corporate Environmental Plan. This Corporate Environmental Plan (or “Environmental Excellence Plan” as dubbed by Suncor) was a business planning and decision framework, which aligned environmental initiatives executed by the business units with Suncor corporate goals, to accelerate the company’s environmental performance over time.


In 2009, Suncor made public its four environmental performance goals for significant improvements in energy efficiency, land reclamation, reductions in air emissions and water use (with a baseline set at 2007 levels). Suncor aims to achieve these goals by the year 2015.


The Environmental plan was fully integrated with Suncor’s business planning cycle. The work involved:


  • Close working partnership with the corporate sustainability team
  • Establishment of a company-wide steering team made up of senior representatives from the business units and corporate functions
  • Identification and prioritization of environmental projects from across the organization


Brian Doucette, Director of Environmental Excellence, Suncor Energy, indicated that the company’s Environmental Excellence Plan (“EEP”) will provide the structured processes to progress towards achieving its environmental performance goals.

“The EEP will help to provide a much higher level of information and transparency about the options Suncor has for developing and executing great projects, which in turn will accelerate our environmental progress.”

Brian Doucette, Director of Environmental Excellence, Suncor Energy

An update on Suncor’s Environmental Excellence Plan is provided in its recently published “Report on Sustainability 2013”. Suncor is presently renewing their goals for 2020.



Results – continuing the journey to zero


It is difficult to quantify the impact of process safety because the goal is to control low probability and high consequence events. However, Suncor has seen a significant reduction in the number of major process incidents over the last 3 years.


Over the period of Suncor’s entire engagement with DuPont, the frequency of employee lost time injuries and recordable injuries continued to decline as employees and contractors embraced the Journey to Zero safety culture and its guiding value: Do it safely or don’t do it. Suncor’s process safety program hit its peak in 2011 as the first site completed its implementation and the final three sites ramped up their plans for 2012. 2011 was the peak year for implementing a set of clear and consistent process safety standards across Suncor’s operations, a program that is expected to complete by 2013.


Suncor made substantial progress in achieving the four environmental performance goals they set in 2009 and they continue to improve and evolve their Environmental Excellence Plan as the vehicle for driving this performance. Suncor has also begun the work of developing their next set of environmental goals, looking forward to the year 2020.



About Suncor


Suncor Energy is Canada’s leading integrated energy company. Suncor’s operations include oil sands development and upgrading, conventional and offshore oil and gas production, petroleum refining, and product marketing under the Petro- Canada brand. While working to responsibly develop petroleum resources, Suncor is also developing a growing renewable energy portfolio. Suncor’s common shares (symbol: SU) are listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges.