​Around 700,000 British Columbians could lose gas supply after pipeline explosion near Prince George

Image: Enbridge

Approximately 70% of FortisBC’s one million customers across the province have the potential to lose gas supply as a result of a ruptured natural gas line north of Prince George October 9.

British Columbia's Ministry of Environment said the incident involved a 900 PSI natural gas pipeline operated by Enbridge.

The rupture resulted in an explosion and a massive fire. According to FortisBC, this affects the pipeline that supplies natural gas which FortisBC distributes to customers across Greater Vancouver, the lower Fraser Valley, Prince George, Quesnel and William’s Lake.

Thousands of FortisBC customers would be without natural gas without the pipeline.

"At this time we cannot speculate about how long it will take to resolve the situation," Enbridge spokesman Michael Barnes said in an emailed statement.

Parkland Fuel Corporation says it is "curtailing" operations at its refinery in Burnaby as a result of the natural gas supply cut, but that it continues its refining operations.

David Craig, executive director of the Commercial Energy Users Association, said there will be some natural gas in the system that can still be used, but depending on how long it takes to fix the rupture, he expects there may be widespread impacts to residential, business and industrial customers.

"There will be a small amount of delay time available in the...pipeline, but after that, I'm taking it, from what little I know about it, this is going to be a pretty serious shutdown and impact on residential, commercial and others in terms of the primary uses of natural gas for space heating and also for hot water," Craig said.

"Every business, there's a boiler in the basement that supplies hot water and heating. I would expect widespread and significant inconvenience and probably some impacts on the electrical system as people end up using stove tops to heat water."

FortisBC has backup supplies of natural gas in the form of liquefied natural gas at its Tilbury Island terminal. The LNG produced and stored there is intended to supply the Greater Vancouver area with natural gas during peak demand. It's not clear, however, whether the supply is significant enough to make up for a major loss of pipeline gas, or how quickly it can get into the system. FortisBC is looking into those questions, a spokesperson told Business in Vancouver.

Between 70 and 80 people living on the north side of the Lheidli T’enneh reserve were evacuated.

“It was a bit frantic,” said Terry Teegee.

“I just heard it at the start,” added Teegee. “I thought it might have been a jet engine or a low-flying jet. And the next thing that came to mind is that maybe it’s a train but that’s way too loud.

“But then, as soon as I looked outside, I saw a massive fireball about a half a kilometre to a kilometre away behind the community.”

He said the subsequent evacuation to the band’s community hall on the south side of the river was a “little bit frantic as you can imagine,” but everyone arrived safely.

Rodney Godwin and his family live on Estate Road, near the end of Landooz Road and just across the Fraser River from the Shelley townsite. They heard the sound of thunder shortly after 5:30 p.m. and when Godwin looked across the way, he saw a flame shooting into the sky.

They left their home shortly after that. Police soon had a perimeter established and weren’t allowing anyone back in until it was deemed safe. The evacuation zone was initially for several kilometres but within a couple hours was reduced to one kilometre, allowing residents to return home.

Godwin and his family bided their time watching the slowly-shrinking fireball from a pullout along Northwood Pulp Mill Road while awaiting for the go-ahead to return home.

RCMP said there were no injuries and no reported damage other than to the pipeline itself and as of about 7:30 p.m. the gas supply had been shut down.

“There is no indication of a cause at this point in time,” RCMP said. Investigators will conduct an examination of the scene and a further update will be forthcoming tomorrow (Wednesday).”

FortisBC said none of its infrastructure has been damaged.

The Enbridge pipeline is under the regulatory authority of the National Energy Board (NEB), however it is Transport Canada that will be conducting an investigation into the explosion, with the help of NEB inspectors.

— Business in Vancouver