British Columbia

EnCana unprepared for toxic gas leak: report

A report into a serious toxic leak at a northeastern B.C. sour gas well site has slammed EnCana Corp. for failing to be prepared for the emergency.

A report into a serious toxic leak at a northeastern B.C. sour gas well site has slammed EnCana Corp. for failing to be prepared for the emergency.

The investigation by B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission concluded the company had faulty equipment, failed to notify residents of the risk in time, and did not co-ordinate its emergency response with the local RCMP during the incident last November.

Investigators said the sour gas well, located near Tomslake, leaked toxic hydrogen sulphide gas for eight hours on the morning of Nov. 22 before the company was able to shut it down.

The leak was caused by sand in the gas stream eroding the pipeline, because equipment was not set up properly to remove the sand, said the report. The company's sour gas alarms didn't work properly, and emergency shutdown valves failed to control the escaping gas, said the report.

The investigators concluded EnCana took too long to arrive after the leak started and failed to alert area residents in time, or to properly co-ordinate its efforts with the RCMP.

Residents fled gas cloud

The report detailed how the smell of gas in the area and the roaring sound of the leak was detected by several residents as early as 2:30 a.m. MT, but they did not notify officials and no evacuation plan was put in place.

When the pipe finally blew at 8:30 a.m., area residents heard a sound like a jet taking off, and as a plume of diluted toxic sour gas rolled toward several rural homes, they began to feel their eyes and noses burn.

The concerned residents started to alert each other by telephone, called 911, and began evacuating the area and blocking off roads before either EnCana or the RCMP became involved.

It wasn't until 9 a.m. when EnCana's equipment detected the leak and the company launched a response, but did not start to contact residents until 10:15 a.m. Eighteen residents were ordered to leave their homes and the leak was stopped just before 11 a.m.

Investigators said they would not speculate on whether the sour gas leak could have been deadly.

No fines issued

The report ordered EnCana to fix its equipment and improve its emergency response, but the company won't be fined or sanctioned.

Though the report was released online on Thursday, the Oil and Gas Commission will not be in the community to share its findings with residents until later next week. A public briefing has been scheduled at the Pouce Coupe Seniors Hall at 6 p.m. MT, Feb. 10.

Ironically, EnCana had been on high alert because of a series of six bomb attacks in the area targeting the company's well sites and pipelines, but in this case the leak was caused by a failure of EnCana's equipment.

Despite offers of a large reward and an extensive police investigation, no one has been charged in the bombings, which started in October 2008.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission is the independent regulator of oil and gas activities for the province of British Columbia.

Report findings

The report reached seven main conclusions:

  • The failure of the pipe was caused by internal erosion of the wall resulting from sand suspended in the gas stream.
  • EnCana’s established criterion for sand recovery was not followed and did not effectively limit the amount of sand within the gas stream.
  • EnCana’s public information package intended to get residents to call EnCana immediately if they smelled H2S did not achieve the desired results. Residents suspected a release was occurring (through odour detection or noise) as early as 2:30 a.m. PT, but did not make any notification to EnCana until 9:38 a.m. MT.
  • Leak detection and emergency isolation at the site did not achieve timely detection of the leak or control of the escaping gas.
  • EnCana’s response did not entirely conform to its emergency response plan. No notification to the B.C. government was made prior to 10:42 a.m.
  • There was no co-ordination between the RCMP and EnCana prior to the RCMP’s odour notification to EnCana at 9:45 a.m. The first call to 911 was made at 8:36 a.m. by a resident.
  • EnCana’s integrity management program did not effectively mitigate the hazard of internal erosion. In this instance, the piping failed before any inspection of the piping was conducted.