On Tuesday, about 100 people were evacuated after a BC pipeline explosion just outside of Prince George.  The pipeline operator, Enbridge, says the fire has been extinguished, but the company says it is unclear how long it will take to get the pipeline operational.  Twitter photo by Jamie Rye.  

BC pipeline explosion could impact BC, Washington, Oregon customers

Enbridge says it has extinguished a fire after a BC pipeline explosion about 15 kilometres north of the central British Columbia city of Prince George on Tuesday.

About 100 people from the nearby Lheidli T’enneh First Nation were evacuated after the natural gas pipeline rocked the area at about 5:30 p.m.  Fortunately, no one was hurt as a result of the blast.

Chief Dominic Frederick with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation told the Vancouver Sun that Enbridge contacted him shortly after Tuesday’s explosion.

“They had told me there was a gas building up in the underground. For some reason or another the gas had stopped flowing and it built up and it just exploded,” Frederick said.

On Wednesday, Enbridge reported that most of the residents were allowed to return home, however, a 1-kilometre evacuation zone remains in place.  Enbridge says it is unclear how long it will take to resolve the situation.

The damaged pipeline carries most of the natural gas used by FortisBC and as many as 700,000 customers in northern BC, the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island could be directly impacted by a shortage due to the explosion and pipeline shutdown.

Fortis issued a “decreased energy flow and potential loss of service” warning and is asking its customers in BC to turn down their thermostats and cut use of other gas appliances.  The company is also asking 300,000 customers in the Okanagan and southeastern BC to conserve as well, even though their supplies come from Alberta.

“We are asking them to cut back, too, because we can flow some of that gas past them and down here to the Lower Mainland. So we are asking everybody to chip in,” said Doug Stout,FortisBC vice-president of external relations.

Stout added the explosion and shutdown could cut supplies to some US customers as well because the Enbridge pipeline connects to the Northwest Pipeline system which feeds Puget Sound Energy in Washington and Northwest Natural Gas in Portland.

“Turn down your thermostat if you are in a cold spot. Turn off your furnace if you can, if you are in Vancouver or a situation where you can do that. Minimize the use of hot water if you have a natural gas hot water tank … so we preserve the gas we have for as long as possible,” Stout told the Vancouver Sun.

The damaged pipeline is twinned and while one of the two lines was ruptured in the blast, the second pipeline is shut down to allow Enbridge to check for damage.

Fortis says it has reserves still in the pipeline south of Prince George as well as in LNG storage tanks in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.  Stout said there is some gas flowing from Alberta through a pipeline located in southern BC.

According to Fortis, the company hopes to boost supply by bringing gas in through the TransCanada line from Alberta.  Fortis says it is looking at activating its two BC LNG plants located in Delta and Ladysmith.

The Vancouver Sun reports Fortis is speaking to its industrial customers about switching to alternative fuel sources.

According to the Enbridge website, the 2,900 kilometre long pipeline is capable of “transporting approximately 55 per cent of the gas produced in the province,” and “the backbone of B.C.’s natural gas industry since 1957.”

The Westcoast Transmission System ships natural gas from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin to users in BC and, through interconnecting pipelines, other Canadian provinces and the US.

Tom Neufeld, spokesman for the National Energy Board says the fire was along Enbridge’s Westcoast main line.  As such, it falls under the board’s jurisdiction.

“NEB inspectors have been deployed to this area. They’re going to monitor and oversee the company’s response to the incident, and they’re going to determine the impact and extent of the fire and release,” Neufeld told the Sun.

Neufeld added that the NEB has activated its emergency operations centre located in Calgary.  The regulator will work closely with the Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the BC pipeline explosion.

Doug Stout says FortisBC will update its customers as soon as something new is available.