A TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. natural gas supply line experienced a fire and explosion near Otterburne, Man., a small community off of Highway 59, at approximately 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25.
The explosion sent a fireball into the air, which could be seen from several kilometres away. Witnesses described 200- to 300-metre-high flames lighting up the sky for nearly half an hour, the sound similar to a jet plane.
The flames burned on for nearly 12 hours before they were finally extinguished.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation, and no one was reported injured, though five homes were evacuated.
As a result of the explosion, multiple natural gas stations experienced significantly reduced levels of pressure, which will affect service in numerous communities, including the registered municipalities of Hanover, Niverville, Otterburne, Kleefeld, St-Pierre-Jolys, Grunthal, St. Malo, Dufrost, Ste. Agathe, De Salaberry, Ritchot, and New Bothwell.
Though only one of the two pipelines that supply the area was damaged, both have been shut off.
No information is currently known about how long these areas will experience outages, and officials are telling the 4,000 affected customers to be prepared for an extended wait to get their heat back.
This raises the concerns of many, as cold weather is projected to return to the province in the coming weeks, the temperature in Otterburne expected to plunge near -30 C in the coming days.
“We know it’s cold and people may be concerned about that but we are on the job here,” said Emergency Measures spokesperson Nicki Albus to the CBC. “We have a great group of people at the site and in the communities who have set up their emergency operation centres to handle this dilemma.”
A pre-recorded message installed on Manitoba Hydro’s information line recommends affected individuals to “use only approved space heaters and, where possible, conserve use of electricity.”
Communal warming centres have also been set up to help those in need of heat.
The gas released from the explosion consists primarily of methane and, according to reports given by the RCMP, is not considered dangerous.
Despite this, officials say that if you smell natural gas, or have a natural gas emergency, you should call the Manitoba Hydro line and choose “natural gas emergency” from the options provided in the menu.
The explosion happened at a time when the safety records of Canadian natural gas transporters are facing close examination. TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. is among the companies vying for government approval to construct new pipelines for oil and natural gas, a plan hotly contested by environmentalists and numerous Aboriginal groups.
Manitoba Hydro is currently trying to determine which areas of the province will be the most affected. Initially, critical services such as hospitals, nursing homes, and warming centres will be provided with gas until regular services resume.