British Columbia

FortisBC ramps up emergency planning for potential natural gas shortage

CBC Vancouver is one of a number of major media outlets in the province that has been approached about running PSAs in the event of a supply emergency.

CBC Vancouver is one of a number of media outlets approached about running PSAs in the event of a supply issue

Fortis has released several videos following the line rupture, including this one explaining to customers the need to reduce consumption. (Fortis/Youtube)

The natural gas shortage caused by a pipeline explosion near Prince George last month has FortisBC ramping up worst-case scenario planning.

CBC is one of a number of major media outlets in the province that received an inquiry from the gas utility about running public service announcements should there be a supply emergency.

"In the event of a drastic demand spike or anticipated severe weather, FortisBC would look to issue a Public Service Announcement (PSA) through mass media channels in order to communicate to British Columbians quickly the need to significantly limit or cease the use of natural gas for a period of time," reads the email from corporate communications advisor Diana Sorace. 

A major Enbridge pipeline which ruptured and exploded Oct. 9 northeast of Prince George is responsible for the supply problem.. 

FortisBC is warning of potential natural gas shortages this winter because of the Enbridge pipeline that exploded and caught fire northeast of Prince George on Oct. 9, 2018. (Jeff Miller/Twitter)

Last week, Enbridge Inc. announced that it had repaired the line, however flow in it and in a secondary pipeline nearby has been capped at 80 per cent normal pressure by the National Energy Board while monitoring and safety inspections take place.

That means FortisBC isn't receiving the volume of natural gas it normally does, which is a major concern with the coldest months looming. 

"I think a lot of people see that 80 per cent number and think, OK, we're probably good. But in reality, during a typical winter we use 100 percent of what is coming down that pipe and what is allocated to FortisBC, so being short 20 per cent is certainly an issue," said Sean Beardow, the manager of corporate communications.​

FortisBC has been trying to get the message out that customers need to start conserving gas now by turning down the thermostat and using less hot water. 

Beardow said placing PSAs is the next step in planning how the company will communicate with the public.

"If we see a potential red flag on the horizon or something that can negatively affect the gas supply, we want to be able to reach out rapidly to British Columbians ... and ask for their help in reducing natural gas demands, so we can weather the storm a bit better."

If natural gas supply levels drop below customer demand, FortisBC says it has contingency plans that include drawing from storage, curtailing supply to large customers and purchasing gas on the open market. 

It says critical services such as hospitals have alternative fuels they are able to switch to in times of shortages.


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