How the pipeline explosion affects you — and whether you're going to run out of natural gas

British Columbians are being asked to avoid any "non-essential" use of natural gas after one of Enbridge's pipelines exploded and caught fire northeast of Prince George on Tuesday. Here's why.

Risk of a shortage lower now that second pipeline is on again, but British Columbians still asked to cut back

A large fireball was seen rising into the sky from Shelley, B.C., a small community about 15 kilometres northeast of Prince George, after the explosion on Tuesday. (Greg Noel/Twitter)

British Columbians are being asked to avoid any "non-essential" use of natural gas after one of Enbridge's pipelines exploded and caught fire northeast of Prince George on Tuesday.

The line ruptured and exploded, and a second line was temporarily shut down as a precaution.

There is no timeline for a fix on the main line.

Here's what we know about what that means for you.

Why am I being asked to cut back on natural gas?

The primary natural gas pipeline damaged in the explosion links the Fort Nelson area to Vancouver. There are another 750,000 customers in the northwest United States.

Until the line is fixed, natural gas supply across the province will be limited.

Smoke from the fire was seen rising into the sky after the blast. (Greg Noel/Twitter)

How limited?

FortisBC is receiving a reduced gas flow — approximately 40 per cent of its normal capacity — while Enbridge makes repairs to its system. 

The smaller of the two lines has been restarted at a lower pressure, but analysts say that still leaves between 600 million and 800 million cubic feet per day of gas without an easy path to market.

Although the fire on the pipeline has been extinguished, two Enbridge pipelines are being shut off: the ruptured pipe and another one that's to be assessed for damage. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

So ... am I going to run out?

Hopefully not. Doug Stout, vice-president of external relations with FortisBC, said there was a risk that 700,000 customers in the Lower Mainland would run out when both pipelines were down, but that risk is lower now that the smaller pipeline is back on.

"Without supplies, for a period of time, then it is a question of having to turn customers' supplies off," he said.

FortisBC depends on the Enbridge line for about 85 per cent of the gas it delivers to its one million customers.

As many as 700,000 B.C. customers could be affected. 5:36

Are companies and institutions cutting back, too?

Yes. Stout said Fortis' industrial customers in B.C. are under restrictions, though some have begun to be brought back onto the system with reduced amounts of natural gas.

The University of the Fraser Valley and the British Columbia Institute of Technology have either lowered or stopped heating buildings on their main campuses until further notice to conserve resources. 

The University of British Columbia — which has a campus at the end of a natural gas pipeline — has asked non-essential users to immediately stop using natural gas.

What about gas prices?

Oil refineries use natural gas, so a shortage could drive up prices. On Thursday, Stout said the Lower Mainland could see a four- to eight-cent jump in gas prices over the weekend. 

How long will it take to fix the pipeline?

FortisBC told CBC News it is waiting to hear from Enbridge on a timeline.

The National Energy Board (NEB) is working on a return-to-service plan once the line is fixed. Indigenous communities and landowners will need to be consulted. 

What caused the blast?

The Transportation Safety Board is still investigating, with support from Enbridge and the NEB. The RCMP has determined the explosion wasn't criminal in nature.

Iain Colquhoun, the NEB's chief engineer, said a cause should be determined within "days."

With files from Yvette Brend, Daybreak Kamloops, Daybreak North and the Canadian Press

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