Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Natural gas flowing to some communities

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About half of the almost 3,600 customers who lost natural gas services when a pipeline blew up on Saturday morning now have their gas service again.

And Manitoba Hydro is hoping to have gas services to all of its customers in rural communities by 5 p.m. today.

Manitoba Hydro said in a statement today that about 200 of its staff are busy working and going door to door in the RMs of Hanover, Ritchot and LaBroquerie and in the communities of Ste. Agathe, Niverville, New Bothwell, Kleefeld, Otterburne and Marchand to restore services.

Hydro said its workers began knocking on doors today at about 4:30 a.m. to check the gas service and light pilot lights.

As well, Hydro said natural gas is also flowing through its distribution system in the second stage of its restoration of gas services in the RM of De Salaberry which includes the communities of St. Malo, St. Pierre-Jolys, Grunthal and Dufrost.

The utility hopes to have all customers back on by Wednesday morning, but it warns that some remote customers might take up to two days to get the service back.

About 4,000 residences in southeast Manitoba were affected by a natural gas pipeline explosion at a valve site near Sr. Pierre-Jolys early Saturday about 1 a.m.

The fire burned for hours, however, there were no injuries.

The company expects the remaining residents, in De Salaberry, St. Malo, St. Pierre-Jolys, Grunthal and Dufrost, to have service restored by around noon today.

'I want to let everybody in these impacted communities know that we appreciate your patience, and we are doing everything we can to restore natural gas service into your communities as quickly and safely as possible'

-- TransCanada Pipelines vice-president Karl Johannson

The explosion occurred at a valve site near Sr. Pierre-Jolys and the flames were extinguished by Saturday afternoon. Crews have been working around the clock in extreme cold to restore gas supplies.

Manitoba Hydro crews are going door-to-door in areas where gas has returned to confirm service is properly restored and to relight pilot lights if needed.

The RCMP has said the cause of the explosion is not suspicious. The Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

According to Manitoba Hydro, once a gas supply has been established by TransCanada, 200 Manitoba Hydro service personnel will start going door to door to confirm gas service is properly restored and to relight pilot lights. All Manitoba Hydro service personnel will be wearing identifying clothing and have photo identification.

"And it depends on where they (the customers) are," Powell said, explaining communities closer to the pipeline source will get their gas supply restored sooner. "The farther down the line you are, the longer the lag."

For example, New Bothwell got natural gas before the community of Marchard, which is located a greater distance from the main line.

TransCanada PipeLines vice-president Karl Johannson apologized for the disruption of gas service, which has left thousands of homeowners scrambling to find alternative heat sources or places to stay.

Community "warming shelters," established in cases of emergencies, have been virtually vacant. Most have borrowed or purchased portable heaters and chosen to remain in their homes.

"I want to let everybody in these impacted communities know that we appreciate your patience, and we are doing everything we can to restore natural gas service into your communities as quickly and safely as possible," Johannson said.

Johannson promised the company would cover any direct losses people experience.

Those financial outlays include things such as frozen pipes and other physical damage to homes to smaller expenditures such as hotel stays and additional electric space heaters.

Jerry Berriault, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's senior regional investigator in the central region for rail and pipeline, said it will be months before they know what caused the pipeline to rupture and explode.

Berriault said the TSB has classified the incident as a class three investigation so there will be a full public report issued that will include cause and contributing factors.

Berriault said the blast left a crater about 10 metres across and more than three metres deep.

Carole Leger-Kubeczek, a spokeswoman for the National Energy Board, said the NEB was contacted about the explosion on Saturday about two hours after it occurred.

"We still have our technical experts on site," Leger-Kubeczek said.

"They will be there to monitor TransCanada PipeLines' emergency response effort to make sure people living and working near the site are safe."

Leger-Kubeczek said they are monitoring possible environmental effects, but because it was natural gas and it dissipated quickly, "we don't expect there to be any long-term damage."

Powell said Hydro brought in an additional 170 workers (up from 30) to service the area and ensure the gas is flowing to all part of the region.

SaskEnergy sent crews and trailers with compressed natural gas to Manitoba Hydro stations.

SaskEnergy crews will help Manitoba Hydro reconnect customers once the line owned by TransCanada PipeLines is repaired.

The province intends to look at pipeline safety in the coming weeks.

"We will be looking very closely at this to see if there are any issues of concern," Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said Monday.

"But our key focus right now is on the immediate situation, the emergency situation.

"But we will obviously be looking for some indication, too, if there are any additional risk levels coming out of this. There are many Manitoba communities that are served by natural gas and there are also many Manitoba communities that do have main-line pipelines going through them."

Ashton said it's premature to speculate on specific future government involvement in pipeline safety or emergency planning at this point.

He said pipelines, like railways, are federally regulated.

-- with files from Randy Turner, Bruce Owen, Kevin Rollason, Adam Wazny and Canadian Press.

Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press

Aerial view Monday of the site of the TransCanada pipeline explosion and fire.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2014 A3

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 6:52 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds videos

8:59 AM: Updated with gas now on in some communities.

9:36 AM: Slideshow added.

11:03 AM: adds photo

2:45 PM: Updated from new Manitoba Hydro figures.

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