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Updated: Thu, 06 Feb 2014 07:35:08 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Pipeline rupture: Alberta resident unaware of blast in 2009



On July 20, 2009, the Peace River Mainline in northern Alberta exploded, sending 50-metre-tall flames into the air and razing a two-hectare wooded area.

On July 20, 2009, the Peace River Mainline in northern Alberta exploded, sending 50-metre-tall flames into the air and razing a two-hectare wooded area.

A Northern Alberta woman says she never learned about an explosion on a TransCanada natural gas pipeline that travels under her town until CBC News unearthed an investigation of the rupture this week.

"I was very, very angry that nothing about the pipeline, the dangers pertaining to anything about the pipeline, wasn't' made public to the people," Eileen Tecomba, a member of the Dene Tha’ First Nation of Chateh, told CBC News.

"I was overwhelmed and I was very emotional, thinking about my family and the risk we are taking living close to the pipeline," she said.

Tecomba is angry that a National Energy Board report on the July 20, 2009 blast on the Peace River Mainline had been effectively buried for three years. The explosion, which sent 50-metre-tall flames into the air, razing a two-hectare wooded area, occurred at a section of the Peace River Mainline  about 50 kilometres from her community.

The final report wasn't released publicly until this January when the CBC obtained it through an access-to-information request.

Tecomba said she had previously thought there had been just an oil spill in that area. 

She lives 1,500 metres away from a section of the pipeline that runs through town. She is concerned about her and her family's safety and would like to relocate.

"What if there's an explosion? The aftermath I saw … covers about two hectares of land and we're so close to it," she told CBC News. 

But she said a shortage of housing and poor housing conditions due to overcrowding make moving a difficult option.

'Administrative error'

The NEB said the delay in releasing the report was caused by an “administrative error” when an employee left without transferring the file over.

According to the report, the pipeline spewed 1.45 million cubic metres of natural gas – equivalent to the volume of 580 Olympic-sized pools – over a period of hours before TransCanada stopped the flow and put out the fire.

The report called TransCanada's field inspections "inadequate" and its management "ineffective." The pipeline, built in 1968, has ruptured six times and leaked on 17 occasions. The line ruptured in 2009 due to deep corrosion. 

"I'm very, very upset right now," Tecomba said. "What are the precautions to take and what are the safety regulations? These are the things that I should know and the people who live around close to the pipeline should know."

Matt Munson, The Dene Tha’ First Nation director, lands and environment, said many members of the community are concerned about the safety of the pipeline and question whether proper safeguards have been put in place.

"We’re concerned that the regulators are not doing, in some cases they’re not doing enough in our view," Munson said.

“And also on the monitoring and compliance and enforcement side, you know, we’ve never seen, I’ve never seen … any routine inspections being done on NEB regulated facilities in our traditional territory. And I’m not sure that there are.”

NEB investigated immediately

Gaétan Caron, chair and CEO of the National Energy Board, said in a statement released Wednesday that following the pipeline rupture, the NEB immediately began its investigation by deploying members of its emergency response team to the incident site.

He said the investigation continued until June 2010 and that the NEB issued a safety order 11 days after the incident, and two further amendments to the safety order in October 2009 and June 2010.

"Together, these three documents set the conditions for the safe operation of the Peace River Mainline," he said. "Among other things, the safety order imposed a 20 per cent pressure restriction on the pipeline and outlined actions TransCanada must take to prevent a similar occurrence in the future."

He said the delay in publishing the report "in no way, and at no time, compromised the safe operation of the Peace River Mainline or the NEB’s response to the incident."

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