Yellowhead County burst pipeline investigation underway as wildfire brought under control

A wildfire in west-central Alberta that was sparked by a natural gas pipeline rupture is under control, but an investigation into what caused the pipeline to break could take months or even years.
As of Wednesday morning, there was very little fire activity left following an overnight snowfall in Yellowhead County, where a 10-hectare fire burned on Tuesday about 40 kilometres northwest of Edson.“But for it to be considered extinguished, we’re going to have to hotspot,” said Caroline Charbonneau, Alberta Wildfire area information co-ordinator with Alberta Forestry and Parks.“That means we’ll have to dig into the ground, look and feel for hot spots, and then douse it with water. And that could take several days.”

Wildland firefighters wrapping up their efforts for on the Yellowhead County wildfire that sparked after a pipeline burst on April 16, 2024.

Credit: Alberta Wildfire

The fire on Tuesday, which occurred as much of Alberta is dealing with extremely dry early spring conditions, was sparked when a natural gas pipeline owned by TC Energy Corp. ruptured. Story continues below advertisement

There were no injuries, and the fire was never a threat to any surrounding communities. The affected pipeline segment was isolated and shut in and there is no more gas leaking from the pipeline.

A pipeline explosion sent up a large fireball in Yellowhead County near Edson on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

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The Canada Energy Regulator had inspectors on site Wednesday to monitor the company’s response and the Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.

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According to CER, there have been 12 natural gas pipeline ruptures in Canada since 2008, and Tuesday’s incident near Edson was the first rupture on that particular pipeline within that time period.The 36-inch diameter pipe that ruptured is part of TC Energy’s NGTL pipeline system, which transports natural gas from Alberta and northeast B.C. to domestic and export markets.The system spans 24,631 kilometres and connects with TC Energy’s Canadian Mainline system, Foothills system and other third-party pipelines. Story continues below advertisement

The NGTL pipeline system is like a web made up of different lines that have been developed in stages.

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In 2022, there was a rupture on a separate part of the system that resulted in an explosion and fire near Fox Creek, Alta. There were no injuries.A TSB investigation into that incident took more than 14 months, and concluded that the pipeline ruptured due to reduced pipe wall strength caused by external corrosion.

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While the primary risk of a crude oil pipeline leak is an oil spill that harms the local ecosystem, natural gas pipeline ruptures can and do result in fires or explosions, said Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a U.S.-based non-profit organization.“The chances are extremely high that a molecule of natural gas that enters a pipeline will go through that pipeline without a failure. Pipelines are quite safe, and when you look at incident rates compared to other modes of transportation like rail or truck, they are much less likely to have a failure,” Caram said. Story continues below advertisement

“But what you don’t get a sense of by looking at the risks of pipelines in that way is how catastrophic a failure can be when it does happen.”

An aerial photo of Yellowhead County pipeline wildfire as of 12:30 p.m. on April 16, 2024.

Credit: Alberta Wildfire

According to the TSB, there were 19 recorded incidences of fires related to pipelines in Canada between 2012 and 2022.The TSB’s most recent report on pipeline transportation safety in Canada states that in 2022 there were 100 companies transporting either oil or gas or both in the federally regulated pipeline system, which includes approximately 19,950 km of oil pipelines and approximately 48,700 km of natural gas pipelines.That year, there were 67 pipeline transportation accidents and incidents on federally regulated pipeline systems, according to the report.That number was well below the 10-year average of 112 occurrences, and was also the lowest number of occurrences since 2019, when 52 pipeline accidents or incidents were recorded by the TSB. Story continues below advertisement

The TSB defines a pipeline “accident” as an incident that results in a person being injured or killed, a fire or explosion, or significant damage to the pipeline affecting its operation.Less severe pipeline events that involve the uncontrolled release of a commodity or a precautionary or emergency shutdown are classified by the TSB as “incidents.”There have been no fatal accidents directly resulting from the operation of a federally regulated pipeline system since the inception of the TSB in 1990.

&copy 2024 The Canadian Press

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