Preliminary investigation into a South Surrey gas leak that forced the evacuation of dozens of homes and businesses on Monday has found proper safety procedures were followed by the workers at the scene.
A City of Surrey crew was digging up an old and unused six-inch water line to cap it when the bucket of the backhoe excavator they were using damaged a four-inch natural gas line at the intersection of 24 Avenue and 160 Street around 12:30 p.m. July 30.
Police and fire evacuated the immediate area around the break, including the Peace Arch News offices.
As the day progressed, the evacuation was expanded to include most of the businesses in the 50-acre Grandview Corners shopping district on both sides of 24 Avenue, as well as some residential homes on the fringe of the business area.
(Above: Surrey firefighters consult at the scene. Alex Browne photo)
Vincent Lalonde, Surrey’s general manager of engineering, said Wednesday that the workers had, as required, contacted BC One Call before they started digging to determine the location of any utility lines.
Provincial gas safety regulations published on the FortisBC website require crews working near a gas line to first dig by hand to expose the line before using power tools.
Lalonde says the city workers say they followed safety procedures by marking the location of the gas line on the surface and using a gas detector to check the location.
The city is investigating whether there was an error by the backhoe operator, or if the plans showing the location of the line were incorrect.
“In the next few days, we’re hoping to wrap it up,” Lalonde said.
FortisBC spokesperson Tracy Tang confirmed the workers had phoned the service and obtained the necessary permission from the gas utility.
“They absolutely did call,” Tang told PAN.
Tang said initial indications are the damage to the line was a “most unfortunate” accident.
She said Fortis crews dug up the gas line near the break to crimp it and shut off the flow of gas before fixing the break.
Natural gas is lighter than air, Tang explained, so it tends to disperse quickly.
Fortis adds a harmless but foul-smelling substance to the normally odourless gas to help detect leaks and that was the source of the strong odour noticed in the area, Tang added.
Eighty business and residential customers lost service as a result of the leak.
FortisBC crews went door-to-door Monday to restore pilot lights after the break was repaired.
A Surrey RCMP report on the incident said 35 to 40 houses were evacuated in the area of 24 to 28 Avenue and 160 tp 161A Street.
The BC Safety Authority confirmed it is also investigating the leak.
In an email response to a PAN query, authority communications officer Roy Siojo said no decision on a possible penalty will be made until the review is completed.
He said the authority usually doesn’t impose fines unless they are dealing with obvious negligence or a repeat offender.
“We look at contributing factors, including compliance with the gas safety regulation, the use of BC One Call, excavating practices and other circumstances,” Siojo said.
“Normally, we attempt to educate the excavating contractor on the first incident, and then move to a compliance order. If our attempt to educate the excavator hasn’t resulted in a change in behaviour, we can then move to a monetary penalty.”
Witnesses reported hearing a loud, prolonged rushing noise from the damaged gas pipe that sounded like a jet engine.
(Above photos of Fortis technician and scene of leak by Sarah Massah)
Fire crews closer to the scene called it “deafening.”
Veronica Moretti was at work at Turner Geox in Grandview Corners when the leak occurred. The area was quickly overwhelmed by a foul odour, she said.
“The smell of gas was way, way, way too much,” Moretti said. “We were all running around (asking) ‘what’s happening, what’s happening?’”
Power to the area was cut off as a safety precaution to allow inspections of affected businesses to make sure there were no lingering pockets of gas.
Electricity was restored shortly after 6 p.m.
There were no reports of injuries.
(Below: Landon Conlin, 4, gets a better look at the action from the shoulders of his dad, Shane. Photo by Tracy Holmes)
– with files from Kevin Diakiw and Tracy Holmes