Precautions taken in wake of B.C. gas pipeline explosion
Local companies including two oil refineries, a natural gas supplier and a regional power utility are expecting to be impacted by a natural gas pipeline explosion that occurred late Tuesday in British Columbia.
The explosion occurred along a pipeline operated by Canadian company Enbridge in an area near Prince George, about 600 miles northeast of Vancouver, British Columbia, according to an Associated Press news report.
Following the explosion, two pipelines operated by FortisBC that supply 85 percent of British Columbia’s natural gas were shut off, according to the report.
Christopher Stockton, spokesman for energy infrastructure company Williams, said the affected Canadian pipeline delivers natural gas to Williams’ Northwest Pipeline, which supplies customers in Washington and other states.
Those customers include companies such as Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas, according to the AP report.
With the pipeline system in Canada now offline, Williams’ Northwest Pipeline may have interruptions in its service. Stockton said the company is working to minimize interruptions to residential users and that cooperation from industries such as the refineries in Skagit County is helpful.
The Shell Puget Sound and Marathon Petroleum Anacortes refineries at March Point shut down some of their units Wednesday morning because of the pipeline issue, according to statements from both refineries. Marathon was formerly Andeavor, and before that Tesoro.
Shell refinery spokesman Cory Ertel said the refinery’s shutdown is a precaution in response to the possibility that not enough natural gas will be available following the explosion to continue normal refinery operations.
The refinery receives natural gas from Cascade Natural Gas, which at about 11:30 a.m. released a statement asking customers in Western Washington to limit use until further notice.
“Cascade has requested industrial natural gas customers to curtail usage and is asking residential and business customers to help conserve natural gas,” the statement reads.
Ertel said the natural gas is used during parts of the refining process, which converts crude oil into a variety of petroleum-based products including gasoline and jet fuel.
No injuries or leaks have been reported at the refinery, according to Shell’s statement.
“We’re proactively shutting down some units ... We have unique processes for managing that and we are responding,” Ertel told the Skagit Valley Herald.
During the shutdown, flaring and smoke may be visible from the refinery.
“The flare system is an important process safety device at a refinery, though we recognize that its use can sometimes be visibly or audibly unsettling for our neighbors,” the statement reads. “We want to assure our neighbors that occasional flaring is a normal and vital part of keeping the refinery safe during scheduled maintenance activities or unplanned operational disruptions.”
Shell said those with questions or concerns may contact the refinery’s hotline at 360-293-1797.
Marathon refinery spokesman Matt Gill said the Marathon facility is also shutting down multiple units, which results in flaring.
“Flares are safety devices, and we anticipate that the flaring may continue while we take the necessary precautions to continue to protect the community and our employees,” Gill said. “We will bring our units back online only when it is safe to do so.”
Meanwhile, Puget Sound Energy is also asking customers in the region to conserve natural gas and electricity by lowering thermostats, limiting hot water use and avoiding using appliances.
Local natural gas systems operated by PSE and Cascade Natural Gas were not damaged in connection to the pipeline failure in Canada, according to statements from both companies.