If the natural-gas leak at Grandview Corners on Monday taught us nothing else, it showed us just how much pressure the contents of underground pipes – perilously close to offices stores and habitations – are under.
As fumes shot into the air, there was little to see except a slight cloudy haze. But the noise was something else – a continuous roar like the sound of an aircraft’s jet engines warming up.
Downwind, the familiar gas smell was well-nigh unbearable. And hundreds of cubic metres of the potentially explosive substance were being expelled – violently – into the atmosphere every minute in the immediate vicinity of the ruptured pipe, at 160 Street and 24 Avenue.
For those close to the scene – including Peace Arch News reporters who ventured outside before the order to evacuate our office building was issued by Surrey Fire Service – it didn’t take much imagination to picture the rapidly escaping gas blowing up with a force that would have shattered windows and overturned police cars and fire trucks.
What takes a little more for witnesses to get their heads around is why it took Fortis close to three hours to shut the gas off after the leak was reported at around 12:30 p.m.
An unimaginable amount of gas must have spewed into the atmosphere by then. And no one, as yet, has downplayed the potential for disaster had a stray spark ignited it.
As RCMP Sgt. Drew Grainger noted at the scene, the leak was “about as big as it gets.”
While Surrey fire and RCMP units can’t be faulted for their prompt reaction and decision-making, one wonders what would have happened if the gas had ignited before the leak was contained.
Had injury, deaths or even extensive property damage resulted, what would the situation have been as far as legal liability was concerned?
And how did the gas pipe get broken in the first place? The City of Surrey crew working on capping off a water main at the corner have been adamant that they were following procedures, and had called ahead for the location of gas lines before using a backhoe to scrape away paving.
Yet the backhoe still managed to rupture the pipe. While we can accept that accidents can happen, it’s scarcely a comforting thought in a potentially disastrous situation like this.
In the interests of future safety, investigation of the incident cannot let it go at that.
Given the hazards involved, it is incumbent on those involved to find out what went wrong, and just what can be done to prevent a similar, and possibly much worse, scenario from occurring.