Canada: Fresh gas line explosion amid fossil fuel expansion

February 14, 2014
The explosion of a gas pipeline in Otterburne.

A rupture of the TransCanada PipeLines (TCPL) gas line occurred in the middle of the night on January 25 near the village of Otterburne. A huge fireball erupted into the night sky and burned for many hours.

The explosion tore a large crater in the ground. Several thousand homes in 10 small communities were left without gas heating during temperatures that dipped to minus 30C. It took days for full service to be restored.

The pipeline brings gas from Alberta to the US across the Manitoba-Minnesota international border. It feeds parts of southern Manitoba along the way.

The company says it may take months to find out how the accident occurred. A January 28 Winnipeg Free Press article said: “The cause of the Otterburne blast won't be known for weeks at the very earliest.

“Investigators from the Transportation Safety Board, along with National Energy Board staffers and TransCanada officials, first must examine the remains of the pipeline as well as the soil around it for physical and chemical clues as to what transpired.

“'We simply do not know at this time,' said Karl Johansson, TransCanada's executive vice-president and the head of its natural-gas division …”


The line that exploded is a southward branch from Winnipeg of the TCPL gas pipeline that transports gas to eastern Canada across northern Ontario. This is the route the company is proposing for a multi-billion-dollar Alberta tar sands pipeline that it calls “Energy East”.
It would reach Montreal and points east. The oil industry and the Canadian government want the line to extend all the way to Saint John, New Brunswick. Another possible branch route from Montreal would connect to Portland, Maine.

If the fossil fuel industry has its way, much of the export route for tar sands and fracked gas in western Canada will be via the British Columbia coast on the west.

Coal shipments ― including from the US ― are already transforming Vancouver and Prince Rupert into the first and third largest ports for coal exports in North America.

Now a working group of the BC and Alberta governments established late last year has issued a report with 21 recommendations to speed everything up. The report should set aside any illusion that the BC government was serious about the “five conditions” it wants to see met before it would support the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline proposal.

The conditions were a public relations ruse to buy time for the government to overcome environmental and First Nations opposition.

US scientists are warning that there are environmental risks, regulatory holes and serious unknowns regarding the shipment of Alberta oil-sands products by pipeline, rail and tanker.

The findings are reported in a 153-page report last September by the emergency response division of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As well as the gas and tar sands pipeline projects proposed in western Canada, there are two big hydro-electric projects on the planning boards. These are the C$8 billion (about A$8.1 billion) Site C dam on the Peace River in northeast BC and the $6 billion Keeyask dam on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba.

Industry and government proponents of these dams tout them as “clean energy” sources. But the claims are bogus because the whole purpose of the dams is to increase energy demand and consumption for industrial and commercial purposes.

In the case of Site C, the “clean energy” claim is doubly bogus because it will be used, in part, to power plans to vastly expand natural gas fracking in the BC northeast and transport it by pipeline to the BC coast for liquefaction and export to Asia.

Site C will flood about 3000 hectares of agricultural land as well as Aboriginal hunting and fishing grounds, ancient burial sites and locations where traditional medicinal plants are harvested.

Treaty Eight Tribal Chief Liz Logan made an impassioned plea against the dam on January 24 to the closing session of a federal and provincial review panel.

Signed in 1899, Treaty Eight covers a vast territory larger than France in northeast BC, northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and southern Northwest Territories. In BC, there are eight Treaty Eight signatory First Nations with a population of about 3800.

Peel River Watershed

Meanwhile, a big battle is ongoing in Canada’s Yukon Territory over the Peel River Watershed ― one of the last remaining wilderness areas in North America untouched by industrial development.

Two Yukon first nations and two conservation groups are taking the territorial government to court over its stated plan to open up the big majority of the watershed’s 70,000 square kilometres of territory to mining, pipeline and other industrial development.

The legal action was announced in Vancouver on January 27. Heading the legal team is Thomas Berger, the venerable former federal judge who headed a landmark inquiry during the mid-1970s into a gas pipeline proposed for the Yukon and Mackenzie river valleys in the Northwest Territories. Berger’s report recommended a moratorium on any such plan.

So far, no Mackenzie Valley pipeline has been built, but in 2010, the National Energy Board made a favourable recommendation for Imperial Oil’s stated wish to build one.

Plans for a gas liquefaction industry on the BC coast have only increased industry lust to proceed.

There are at least three factors that can cause pipeline ruptures: corrosion of the pipe caused by surrounding soil conditions or the product flowing through; shifts in the ground caused by earthquakes, sinkholes or melting permafrost; and human digging on or near pipeline routes.

Commenting on the Manitoba explosion, Environmental Defence’s Adam Scott told the Canadian Press he is concerned with TCPL’s safety record.

Among other issues, a former engineer at the company blew the whistle on TransCanada last year, speaking out against the company’s violations of pipeline building codes by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

“I don’t know why communities or provinces would trust this company to be safe,” Scott said.

“This just reminds Canadians that this infrastructure is risky, inherently, and they need to be thinking about whether or not they actually want to be building more of this …”

[Reprinted from]

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