By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A fireball rose over a Sturgeon County field Monday afternoon, an explosion that sent one man to hospital with life-threatening injuries and left another man severely burned. Three cable contractors installing utility poles south of Highway 642 on Range Road 244 found their routine job turn to tragedy when the bobcat operator’s auger drilled through a gas pipeline. The incident drew RCMP, fire crews, ambulance, and Alliance Pipeline employees to deal with the matter.
Fortunately, the man seriously injured was a rescue mannequin and the entire deployment was a real-time, multi-departmental training exercise, one of two Alliance Pipeline conducts in Morinville each year.
At Alliance Pipeline’s boardroom in Morinville’s industrial park, RCMP Sergeant Mark Mathias and Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations David Schaefer joined Alliance Pipeline staff, including James Winters, Emergency Preparedness and Security Lead, in dealing with their individual roles in the simulation, just as they might if the incident had actually occurred.
Winters said the purpose of the exercise was to practise the company’s emergency response protocols contained in Alliance’s Emergency Response Plan and to work with external groups within and outside the municipality. “In the event of a real emergency, people are comfortable,” Winters said of the exercise, adding the simulation allows agencies to create some familiarity, comfort and trust with one another.
It is a system the company works twice a year in each of its eight operating areas along the pipeline. One of the annual scenarios is a tabletop operation; the other is a more elaborate training exercise with emergency vehicles on scene and putting their full skills into the scenario. Monday’s roleplaying included two Alliance employees acting as media trying to get photos and information at the scene of the emergency.
During that training scenario, the roleplaying media were able to get to the Range Road 244 roadblock. However, had the scenario been real, Highway 642 would have been closed at Range Roads 243 and 245, blocking eastbound and westbound traffic from the scene.
On scene at the RR244 roadblock was Darrell Knapp, Alliance Pipeline’s Morinville Operations Manager. Knapp said the incident scenarios are important to the company and its people. “Any time you do an incident exercise like this things go very well,” he said, adding any minor glitches that occur in the process are training opportunities for all concerned. “That’s why we do this, to make sure we are well versed in anything that may come our way. We try all sorts of different scenarios. Any time we do one it is something different and unique. It definitely challenges everyone that is involved.”
The scenarios provide Alliance and the departments working with them an opportunity to keep their emergency management preparedness skills sharp. Knapp said the preparation for the real world allows the company to be ready to look after the landowner and the public, ensuring both are safe. “If you had an incident it would be very noticeable,” Knapp said, adding the word would get out quickly. “So we’d want to assure the public that we are in control of the situation and making sure that they are safe.”
Although all concerned regarded Monday’s scenario with the same degree of seriousness as if it were actually happening, Knapp said the likelihood of such an incident occurring is quite remote. “Our full focus has always been the safety of the people around us,” he said. “That’s our first priority and always will remain that. The likelihood of an incident in our pipeline is extremely remote. We have an extremely solid pipeline. We built it right the first time. The risk of that is very remote. These incidents are something we do to maintain our edge.”
Monday’s emergency scenario was followed by a debriefing recap with all the agencies involved in the training exercise.
Alliance operates a 3,719-kilometre high-pressure natural gas transmission pipeline system from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and the Williston Basin to the Chicago market hub.
Above: Left: Morinville Fire Department Captain Joel Houle tries to get a nosy photographer out of harm’s way.
Above: Participants discuss the emergency scenario on site.