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Manitoba Pipeline Blast Probed

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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Thousands of Manitobans were still awaiting the return of home heating Monday (Jan. 27), as authorities continued to investigate a pipeline explosion that rocked the southern part of the Canadian province over the weekend.

Authorities do not suspect foul play in the massive natural-gas blast, which erupted about 1 a.m. Saturday (Jan. 25) near the community of Otterburne, setting off a fire that took 12 hours to contain.

Area residents reported fireballs billowing flames hundreds of feet into the air in the night sky. Homes were evacuated but, remarkably, no one was reported injured.

Manitoba explosion
Courtesy Jordan McRae via www.cbc.ca

The pipeline explosion and fire in southern Manitoba lit the night sky for miles around.

Multiple investigations were underway, and the site—about 50 kilometers south of Winnipeg—was temporarily placed under federal jurisdiction.

Bitter Cold Hampers Relief, Repair

However, the blast and fire left about 4,000 residents of the rural community without heat in temperatures that plunged to -32° C (about -25°F), and most were still without power Monday.

Warming centers were established in affected communities, and nine natural-gas tanker trucks were brought in to temporarily supply health-care facilities in the area. Meanwhile, residents employed space heaters and other methods to keep their pipes from freezing.

The temperatures were far too cold for repairs to begin immediately, but TransCanada began work Sunday night on a bypass around the damaged section.

Still, the work proceeded slowly, hampered by the extreme temperatures, said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who visited the site Sunday.

Manitoba explosion
Raw video via CBC News

The fire sounded like a jet plane, area residents said. No injuries were reported.

“Weather’s horrible," Selinger told CBC. "It makes it very difficult for the people trying to fix the system to be outside. It’s extremely cold."

He added: "They are prepared to work 24 hours a day with a variety of shifts to do that so there’s a lot of personnel being brought into the province.”

'Like the Sun Coming Up'

The size and volume of the blast stunned the area.

"I thought there was a fire, but the way it lit the sky, it was like the sun coming up," Tyler Holigroski told CBC News. "The only thing is it was flashing. It would get brighter, get dim, get brighter, go dim.

"It lit up the whole sky here for half an hour," Holigroski said.

Other residents, including Paul Rawluk, spoke of the blast's ferocious roar.

"As we got closer, we could see these massive 200- to 300-meter-high flames just shooting out of the ground, and it literally sounded like a jet plane," he told the news outlet.

"And that's the thing that really got us, was the sound of it."

U.S. Implications

The pipeline is owned by TransCanada Corp., which has been seeking approval for years in the U.S. to allow its Keystone XL pipeline to cross the Canadian-U.S. border.

TransCanada Map
TransCanada Corp.

The explosion disrupted natural-gas supplies to the U.S. Plains states. U.S. customers did not lose power but were asked to conserve natural gas.

Critics of the Keystone XL project have challenged TransCanada's safety record. TransCanada also reported pipeline blasts in Manitoba in 1995, 1996 and 2002.

The pipeline that exploded this weekend was one of two supplying the Manitoba Hydro natural gas distribution system in the region. Although only one was damaged, TransCanada shut down the gas supply to the second pipeline as a safety precaution in order to make repairs, CBC reported.

Manitoba Hydro tweeted at 10:56 p.m. Sunday that gas supplies "could begin to resume" in south central Manitoba by Monday night. In an update at 11 a.m. Monday, it said that work on the bypass "is progressing."

The affected lines also serve more than 100,000 Xcel Energy customers in the U.S.

Although U.S. customers did not lose power, Xcel asked customers in eastern North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and western Wisconsin to conserve natural gas by turning down their thermostats and avoiding the use of natural-gas appliances.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Fire; Oil and Gas; Pipelines

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