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Pipeline explosion forces First Nation to evacuate

Enbridge gas pipeline starts massive fire, forcing 100 people to flee

by Hilary Beaumont
Oct 10 2018, 4:59pm

A pipeline explosion near Prince George, BC, Tuesday evening sent a massive fireball shooting into the air near Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, forcing the community of 100 people to flee.

At around 5:45 p.m. local time, an Enbridge gas pipeline ruptured 13.5 km north of Prince George, Enbridge said in a statement. The company said there were no reports of injuries as a result of the incident. The RCMP confirmed this, and added there was no reported damage other than to the pipeline.

Late Tuesday night, Lheidli T’enneh First Nation posted on Facebook that there was an explosion behind the north side of the reserve.

“Everyone was safely evacuated from their homes and are now gathered at the House of Ancestors hall. ...We are awaiting an update on the ongoing situation.”

The gas ignited into a giant fire that was captured in a live video on Facebook by Terry Teegee, regional chief for the BC Assembly of First Nations.

“Holy cow, looks like a pipeline explosion, unbelievable,” Teegee says in the video that shows flames shooting high above the trees, sending plumes of smoke into the sky.

“Looks like every available ambulance, fire truck and RCMP are heading to the fire!” he wrote in a Facebook post shortly after.

“Never felt so vulnerable, never felt so helpless,” Teegee wrote. “Thank you for all your concern, we are all okay.”

“We are staying at a hotel tonight, the community is evacuated, everyone is accounted for and ok too. Thank you for your words, prayers and concern, Mussi Cho.”

Resident Bryan Seymour told Global News that the pipeline runs under the First Nation’s evacuation route, making people uneasy as they drove over it.

Enbridge said its emergency crews responded, and they had isolated and are depressurizing two natural gas transmission lines in the area to contain the incident. “The incident are has been cordoned off to maintain public safety,” the company said in a statement.

The explosion happened on the Westcoast Transmission pipeline, built in 1957, which brings natural gas to consumers in BC, other areas of Canada and the US. The pipeline is regulated by the National Energy Board, which sent inspectors to the scene. The Transportation Safety Board will investigate the incident.

According to the TSB, which investigates incidents on federally-regulated pipelines, there have been no fatal pipeline accidents on a federally-regulated system since the TSB began in 1990. But in the last 10 years, there were four serious injuries as a result of incidents on federally-regulated pipelines.

Of all the provinces and territories the TSB investigates, in 2017 it was BC that had the highest number of pipeline “occurrences,” with 51 incidents happening that year. The majority of those involved small quantities of hydrocarbon gas and had minor consequences.

In the last 10 years, TSB data shows the highest number of accidental fires per year on pipelines was 11 in 2009, and the highest number of accidental explosions was two, also in 2009.

One of the most memorable recent pipeline explosions in Canada happened in January, 2014, in Otterburne, Manitoba. A TransCanada natural gas pipeline exploded, creating a massive fireball that ejected debris 100 metres from the site and blasted a crater the length of two city buses. In that case, the TSB determined the cause was a pre-existing crack in the pipeline that went unnoticed when it was built 50 years earlier.

The most recent incident on a federally-regulated pipeline in BC was an oil spill north of Kamloops on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. About 4,800 litres of oil spilled at a pump station. The TSB is still investigating that spill.

Photo by Greg Noel via Twitter.