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Wildfire sparked by pipeline rupture under control; investigation continues

A wildfire started in Yellowhead County on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Supplied) A wildfire started in Yellowhead County on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Supplied)
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A wildfire in west-central Alberta that was sparked by a natural gas pipeline rupture Tuesday is under control, but an investigation into what caused the pipeline to break could take months or even years.

As of Wednesday morning, there was very little fire activity left in Yellowhead County, where a 10-hectare fire burned on Tuesday about 40 kilometres northwest of Edson.

"But for it to be considered extinguished, we're going to have to hotspot," said Caroline Charbonneau, area information co-ordinator with Alberta Forestry and Parks.

"That means we'll have to dig into the ground, look and feel for hot spots, and then douse it with water. And that could take several days."

The fire Tuesday, which occurred as much of Alberta is dealing with extremely dry early spring conditions, was sparked when a natural gas pipeline owned by TC Energy Corp. ruptured.

There were no injuries, and the fire was never a threat to any surrounding communities. The affected pipeline segment was isolated and shut in and there is no more gas leaking from the pipeline.

The Canada Energy Regulator had inspectors oat the site Wednesday to monitor the company's response and the Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.

The 36-inch diameter pipe that ruptured is part of TC Energy's NGTL pipeline system, which transports natural gas from Alberta and northeast B.C. to domestic and export markets. The system spans 24,631 kilometres and connects with TC Energy’s Canadian Mainline system, Foothills system and other third-party pipelines.

The NGTL pipeline system is like a web made up of different lines that have been developed in stages. 

In 2022, there was a rupture on a separate part of the system that resulted in an explosion and fire near Fox Creek, Alta. There were no injuries.

A Transportation Safety Board investigation into that incident took more than 14 months, and concluded that the pipeline ruptured due to reduced pipe wall strength caused by external corrosion. 

The TSB's most recent report on pipeline transportation safety in Canada states that in 2022 there were 100 companies transporting either oil or gas or both in the federally regulated pipeline system, which includes approximately 19,950 km of oil pipelines and approximately 48,700 km of natural gas pipelines.

That year, there were 67 pipeline transportation accidents and incidents on federally regulated pipeline systems, according to the report.

That number was well below the 10-year average of 112 occurrences, and was also the lowest number of occurrences since 2019, when 52 pipeline accidents or incidents were recorded by the TSB.

The TSB defines a pipeline "accident" as an incident that results in a person being injured or killed, a fire or explosion, or significant damage to the pipeline affecting its operation. 

Less severe pipeline events that involve the uncontrolled release of a commodity or a precautionary or emergency shutdown are classified by the TSB as "incidents."

There have been no fatal accidents directly resulting from the operation of a federally regulated pipeline system since the inception of the TSB in 1990.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2024.

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