Up to 700k FortisBC customers impacted by gas line explosion; B.C. and Washington asked to conserve energy

The electricity and gas company FortisBC is asking British Columbians to turn down their thermostats and reduce natural gas use on other appliances following Tuesday's gas line explosion near Prince George. 

Puget Sound Energy, a U.S. energy company, is also asking customers in Washington state to help conserve natural gas and electricity because of B.C.'s pipeline rupture and the impact it has on the U.S. gas supply. 

The Enbridge natural gas pipeline that exploded Tuesday evening is a feeder for the province-wide gas distribution system and, because of this, FortisBC says it anticipates decreased energy flow and potential loss of service.

"About 70 per cent of customers could be impacted here," said Douglas Stout, vice-president of external relations with FortisBC. 

The company serves just over a million customers across the province, from the Lower Mainland to Northern B.C.  

'Turn your thermostats down'

"Anybody who consumes natural gas, we're asking you to cut back to as little as possible and help us work through this situation to everybody's benefit," Stout said. 

"Turn your thermostats down as low as possible, obviously that depends on the region you're in what you can do, minimize the use of hot water if you've got a gas water heater, turn off your fireplace." 

Widespread impact

The pipeline is part of the T-South system, stretching over 1,000 kilometres from Chetwynd, B.C., to the U.S. border, which is why it impacts gas distribution across the province and into Washington.  

Two Enbridge pipelines are being shut off: the ruptured pipe and another one that's to be assessed for damage. Combined, they supply 85 per cent of all natural gas used province-wide.

Some gas is still being brought in from Alberta across the southern Interior. 

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No injuries in explosion

The line ruptured on Lheidli T'enneh reserve land and witnesses who saw the explosion described it as an incandescent orange fireball that could be seen for kilometres.

No one was injured but roughly 100 people fled their homes, including Chief Dominic Frederick. 

He wants answers but says he doesn't expect his nation's relationship with the company to change as a result.

"We're not going to move away because of one explosion," Frederick said. 

"We've lived there for most of our lives, since the pipelines were built, and we never had any concerns with the pipeline until now."

Investigation underway

Enbridge spokesperson Michael Barnes says a full investigation into what caused the rupture is underway and the company is working with nearby communities to maintain public safety.

"A cause will be determined following an investigation of this event," said Barnes.  

"Safety is always our top focus and top priority."

The National Energy Board has sent inspectors to the scene and the Oil and Gas Commission is also investigating. 

"The most significant impact right now is what we are doing in terms of precautions," said B.C. Minister of Energy Michelle Mungall. 

"We don't know what caused this explosion yet but once we do know, no doubt there will be some lessons to be learned and we will be implementing those as regulators."

With files from Yvette Brend, Andrew Kurjata and The Early Edition.