By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal, February 4, 2010
EDMONTON — EnCana failed to properly execute its emergency response plan after a serious gas leak at a northern British Columbia well-site last November, according to a new report from B.C.’s oil and gas watchdog.
An investigation conducted by B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission found the company didn’t start evacuating area residents until 71 minutes after the first alarm went off, and didn’t notify the government until nearly an hour after workers visually confirmed the leak.
The report, released Thursday, also says the company’s emergency response plan was out of date.
“The Commission has determined that EnCana’s response to this incident did not entirely conform to their Emergency Response Plan,” the report says.
“The flow of information within EnCana was effective but delays in external notifications reduced the overall effectiveness of the response.”
EnCana’s Swan well site is located near Pouce Coupe, B.C., a village of 700 people that sits 35 kilometres west of the Alberta-B.C. border and 120 kilometres northwest of Grande Prairie.
Around 2:30 AM on Nov. 22, a resident first smelled what he thought was sewage, but didn’t call authorities. In the five hours that followed at least three others heard jet-like roaring sounds and smelled rotten eggs, but everyone assumed that gas companies were working in the area and didn’t alert anyone to their concerns.
Around 8:30 AM, a local hunter saw a gas cloud and smelled strong odours, so he told nearby residents to evacuate, called 911, then called his wife and told her to start calling around to evacuate neighbours.
At 8:38 AM, records show the pipe at the well site experienced a “sudden failure,” the report says.
At 9:05 AM, EnCana’s control room received and alarm, and at 9:10 AM received a high alarm confirming that the well shut due to a hydrogen sulphide detection at levels of 12.82 ppm.
At 9:35 AM, RCMP contacted EnCana to tell them about the leak – an hour after the 911 call came in.
Ten minutes later, at 9:47 AM, EnCana’s control room dispatched an operator to the incident, and the operator visually confirmed the leak at 9:52 AM.
The company didn’t start evacuating residents until 10:16 AM, more than an hour and 10 minutes after the first report came in.
“The Commission notes that it would be impractical for EnCana to notify residents or prepare for evacuation upon receipt of every alarm,” the report says. “However, in this instance, there were indications of an active gas release available to EnCana prior to the 9:52 AM visual inspection.”
At 10:49, the company notified the Provincial Emergency Program, known as PEP. Notification of PEP is the second step in the company’s emergency plan.
The investigation concluded the leak was caused by sand in the gas that eroded the side of the pipe, causing it to burst under pressure.
The commission says EnCana didn’t properly clean the well after it was built, which left too much sand in the gas stream. In addition the investigators found the emergency shutdown valves were in the wrong place on the pipe, so that when the valve was closed it had no effect on the leak.
The report makes 12 binding recommendations.
EnCana must put all the emergency shutdown valves in the right place, and must prepare a detailed report for the commission showing what it has done.
The company must also submit a report that recommends additional controls and monitoring at all wells that are within three kilometres of a residence and where well control is dependent on testing hydrogen sulphide levels in the air around the pipes.
The commission also makes several recommendations related to improving communication internally and with local residents.
The B.C. Oil and Gas commission will hold a meeting for area residents in Pouce Coupe next week.
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