3 companies charged after deaths of 2 workers in explosion on oil and gas site

Greg Podulsky, left, and Darcy Schwindt, right, died at work on Nov. 12, 2022. (Submitted by Charlene Nahamko and Dallas Schwindt - image credit)
Greg Podulsky, left, and Darcy Schwindt, right, died at work on Nov. 12, 2022. (Submitted by Charlene Nahamko and Dallas Schwindt - image credit)

Alberta Occupational Health and Safety has laid charges against three companies after two men died in an explosion at an oil and gas site north of Edmonton.

Greg Podulsky, 29, and Darcy Schwindt, 47, were killed on Nov. 12, 2022 while they were working at the Marten Hills site near the hamlet of Smith, about 200 kilometres north of Edmonton.

The charges were laid on May 9 against Tamarack Valley Energy of Calgary, Voltegic Energy Services of Athabasca and Peace Pipefitting of Wembley.

According to OHS's website, both men were welding on top of a tank when there was an explosion within a tank storage facility. Podulsky and Schwindt were fatally injured in the explosion.

All three companies have been charged with failing to ensure the health and safety of workers.

The charges include failing to ensure "hot work" — work that can start fires or explosions  — was not begun until a work permit was issued, the area was free of combustible materials and testing had shown the atmosphere did not contain a flammable substance.

Brian Schmidt, president and CEO of Tamarack Energy, told CBC News on Thursday that he could not comment on the charges or what happened that day, but his company, and the other contractors, made changes to policies and procedures after the tragedy.

"We did some pretty significant work internally on our safety program and what we're doing here going forward," he said.

Voltegic Energy Services and Peace Pipefitting have not responded to requests for comment.

Schmidt said his thoughts are with both families and he has been communicating with them.

He said the workers' deaths have been difficult for everyone at Tamarack Energy, but their struggles pale in comparison to what both families have experienced.

"I can't imagine what they're going through," he said.

Charlene Nahamko, Podulsky's mother, said hearing about the companies' changes made her angry.

"People should not have to lose their lives for these changes to be made," she said.

She said learning about the charges brought her back to the day she found out her son had died.

"The same feeling, the same kick in the gut," she said.

A group of Schwindt's family members told CBC News in a written statement that they are relieved the OHS investigation has concluded and that there will be accountability for the workers' deaths.

"We hope that the investigation and subsequent charges will lead to changes in workplace policies and procedures so that this accident will never happen again," they said.

Schwindt's family members said they want him to be remembered as an amazing man who loved his family and friends and had a generous heart and witty sense of humour.

A numbered company was also charged in relation to these workplace fatalities last month, but an investigation specialist told Nahamko in an email that its owner died so those charges would be withdrawn.

The investigation specialist also told Nahamko that the workers had been conducting cutting activities on an unvented large tank.

The companies' first court appearance is scheduled for July 17 in Slave Lake.

Nahamko will be there.

"I'm going to go to every one until they lock me out," she said.