Emergency crews respond to a July 30 natural-gas leak by Grandview Corners

Mapping, hand-digging would prevent 99% of gas-pipeline leaks: FortisBC

City of Surrey completes investigation after July 30 evacuation near busy Grandview Corners.

The City of Surrey has wrapped up its investigation into a July 30 gas leak that forced the evacuation of businesses and residences near 24 Avenue and 160 Street.

Meanwhile, gas-distribution company FortisBC issued a statement this week outlining their response to the emergency and noting that provincial regulations – if followed – would prevent 99 per cent of third-party damage to their pipelines.

Surrey’s preliminary draft of the report was prepared by city occupational health and safety manager Sam Chauhan.

The Chauhan report will be reviewed internally before it goes to WorkSafeBC, the provincial agency in charge of workplace safety.

Details of the report findings won’t be disclosed until it has been reviewed by the agency.

The Workers Compensation Act requires an employer to prepare an “incident investigation report” when an accident involves a “major release of a hazardous substance,” even if no one was injured.

The act says the report should identify any “unsafe conditions, acts or procedures which contributed in any manner to the incident” and propose “corrective actions to prevent similar incidents.”

The report was expected to address whether there was an error by a city of Surrey crew or if the plans showing the line location were incorrect.

The city crew, said to be highly experienced, was digging up an unused six-inch water line when they accidentally knocked a hole in the four-inch gas line.

The crew had checked with the BC One Call database before they started digging to get the location of the gas line.

Around 12:30 p.m. the bucket of their backhoe excavator hit the line, sending a torrent of natural gas into the air.

The immediate area around the break was ordered evacuated by police and fire, including Peace Arch News offices.

The evacuation was eventually expanded to include most of the businesses in the 50-acre Grandview Corners shopping district on both sides of 24 Avenue, as well as 35 to 40 residential homes bordering the business area.

The leak was closed shortly after 3 p.m. but workers and residents were not allowed to return until crews had checked for lingering pockets of gas.

There were no injuries.

In a letter to the editor issued Thursday by FortisBC, vice-president of operations Dwain Bell outlined his company’s response to the emergency:

At FortisBC, we understand that damage to our system, such as the third-party damage that occurred in South Surrey on July 30, 2012, can cause concern for public safety as well as affect first responders and our customers. That is why we work very hard to prevent damage to our system by promoting safe digging practices.

“In addition to FortisBC’s work in promoting safe digging practices to prevent damage to our system, we also keep safety in the forefront when responding to pipeline damage calls. Emergency repair work on a natural gas system is managed by trained personnel using the appropriate precautions. When FortisBC responds to a pipeline damage call, our first priority is to make the area safe. In this instance, a large safety perimeter was established with the help of the RCMP and the fire department. We also removed all potential ignition sources, including working with BC Hydro to cut power to the area.

“Part of this response also included allowing the natural gas to vent freely to the atmosphere, because this is often the safest solution and impacts the fewest number of customers until we can inspect the damage and determine the best way to stop the leak.

“To stop the leak our crews had to shut three valves, dig two remote holes away from the damage, isolate the section of pipe impacted; repair the damaged section, and then remove the isolation devices to get the gas flowing again. The crew worked safely and efficiently following WorkSafeBC guidelines.

“Once the gas was under control and repairs complete, our crews then went door-to-door to relight our customers’ gas appliances.

“As mentioned earlier, FortisBC takes an active role in preventing the risk from third-party damage to our pipelines by promoting safe digging practices, and working closely with stakeholders such as BC One Call, municipalities, and the digging community. And what we learned is that 99 per cent of incidents are preventable by obtaining mapping and hand digging as laid out by provincial regulations.”


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