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Pipeline Rupture Causes Alberta Wildfire, Under Control as Investigations Begin

A wildfire in west-central Alberta, initiated by a natural gas pipeline rupture, is now under control. However, determining the cause of the pipeline’s failure could extend over months or even years.

By Wednesday morning, the remnants of the fire in Yellowhead County, which consumed about 10 hectares approximately 40 kilometers northwest of Edson on Tuesday, had significantly diminished. “We still need to address hotspots by digging into the ground to identify any remaining heat and extinguish it with water, a process that could take several days,” explained Caroline Charbonneau, area information coordinator for Alberta Forestry and Parks.

The Tuesday fire, fueled by extremely dry early spring conditions in Alberta, started following a rupture in a pipeline owned by TC Energy Corp. Fortunately, there were no injuries, and the blaze posed no threat to nearby communities. The compromised segment of the pipeline was quickly isolated and secured to prevent further gas leakage.

Inspectors from the Canada Energy Regulator were at the site on Wednesday to oversee the company’s handling of the aftermath, while the Transportation Safety Board has commenced an official investigation into the incident.

The ruptured 36-inch diameter pipeline is part of TC Energy’s NGTL system, which spans 24,631 kilometers, transporting natural gas from Alberta and northeast British Columbia to both domestic and export markets. This system interlinks with TC Energy’s Canadian Mainline system, the Foothills system, and several third-party pipelines, forming a complex network developed in stages.

This incident recalls a previous 2022 rupture and subsequent explosion near Fox Creek, Alberta, on a different segment of the NGTL system, which fortunately also resulted in no injuries. The subsequent investigation by the Transportation Safety Board took over 14 months, concluding that the rupture was caused by external corrosion that weakened the pipe wall.

According to the TSB’s latest report on pipeline safety in Canada, there were 67 pipeline transportation accidents and incidents on federally regulated pipeline systems in 2022. This figure is significantly lower than the 10-year average of 112 occurrences and marks the lowest since 2019, which saw 52 pipeline accidents or incidents recorded by the TSB.

The TSB distinguishes a pipeline “accident” as an event resulting in injury or death, a fire or explosion, or substantial damage affecting pipeline operations. Less severe occurrences involving uncontrolled commodity releases or emergency shutdowns are termed “incidents” by the TSB.

Remarkably, since the establishment of the TSB in 1990, there have been no fatal accidents directly attributable to the operation of federally regulated pipeline systems.

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