700,000 FortisBC customers could lose gas service, following pipeline explosion

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As many as 700,000 FortisBC customers could lose their natural gas supply, due to a shortage across the province.

There was an explosion of an Enbridge line near Prince George on Tuesday. That line is connected to the Westcoast Transmission System and, indirectly, supplies other provinces as well.

“As a result of that, they’ve had to shut off the flow of natural gas on that system — both the line that ruptured and the other line that’s next to it — as they assess potential damage… About 85 per cent of the gas consumed in B.C. comes down that pipeline system from northern B.C.,” said Doug Stout with FortisBC.

The utility says about 70 per cent of its one million natural gas customers “have the potential to lose gas supply due to this incident.”

“That would be the direst consequence. That’s worst case,” said Stout.

FortisBC is asking you to completely turn off your thermostat, if possible. If it isn’t, the utility wants you at least lower it.

“Reduce the use of hot water from your natural gas hot water tank, your cooktop, your fireplace, any gas appliances or boilers in commercial buildings… so we can preserve the gas in the system as long as possible,” said Stout.

He says some industrial customers have already turned off their use of natural gas.

“Pulp mills can burn wood, or the might burn fuel oil. The same with a cement plant, who can switch to other forms of fuel that they can consume. Those are two examples.”

RELATED: Pipeline explosion near Prince George

Stout adds they are getting supplementary gas from Alberta, on another pipeline system. “That’s about 15 per cent of the gas that serves B.C.”

“We have storage in our liquefied natural gas facilities in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island, that we will be injecting into the system to support it, as well. But we need everybody to chip in and help each other out by conserving as much as possible.”

He says they still don’t have a complete picture of how bad this shortage will be.

“That’s what we’re assessing. We have to see how the response is from people, on cutting back.”

FortisBC notes on its website that its system is not damaged.

By end of day, Wednesday FortisBC had reported a 20 per cent decrease in gas usage. The company thanked its customers but said customers need to continue to reduce consumption.

The cause of the explosion, which happened Tuesday evening, hasn’t been nailed down yet.

The pipeline rupture is having an impact on our neighbours to the south, too.

Puget Sound Energy is also asking customers in Washington state to conserve natural gas, saying yesterday’s explosion “could affect PSE’s ability to supply natural gas to our customers’ homes and businesses.”

PSE is asking customers to set their thermostats at lower settings and limit how much they use their dishwashers or washing machines.


People near Prince George have returned home following explosion

After being forced from their homes due to the ruptured gas pipeline on Wednesday, most people in the area 13km northeast of Prince George have been allowed to return. Photos and video shared online showed flames and smoke rising into the sky.

The damage was deemed to be contained to the pipeline itself. Enbridge says no one was hurt.

National Energy Board inspectors have been sent to the scene, but the cause is still unknown. The NEB says the Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation.

No reason to freak out yet

Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia Joshua Brinkerhoff, who specializes in energy and natural gas, said we’re unlikely to reach the point where people will start freezing in their homes.

“Natural gas distribution infrastructure is quite robust, even though it does have these main trunks that do form a kind of bottleneck but I’m sure the gas will be able to get in from other locations,” he said.

Even before FortisBC has to start finding alternative sources, he said there’s still plenty of gas left in the line and the distribution network.

As for the restaurant industry, Ian Tostenson with the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association isn’t too worried people won’t be able to go out for a meal, noting restaurants only make up a small portion of natural gas users.

“14,000 restaurants, not all of them use natural gas,” he said.

Tosteson said Vancouver has 1,100 restaurants that use natural gas, adding the number is not too high.

“So compared to other big industrial users in British Columbia we don’t rank, but, anything we can do to sort of contribute to make sure that we can serve is a good move.”

– With files from Peter Wagner, Estefania Duran, Kurtis Doering, Lasia Kretzel, and The Canadian Press

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