Polo Park-area gas leak blamed on frost, shifting ground

Polo Park-area gas leak blamed on frost, shifting ground

A gas leak that led to the evacuation of Polo Park mall and left thousands without power last week is being blamed on the movement of thawing soil.

A crack formed in a two-inch-wide natural gas pipe as the ground around it began to thaw and shift, said Bruce Owen of Manitoba Hydro.

"There's still frost in the ground and with the thawing, freezing, the late spring we've had, there's been a bit of ground movement," he said.

The pipe was the smaller of two pipes in the area, he said, adding the four-inch pipe appears to be undamaged.

Traffic was rerouted around St. Matthews Avenue and Empress Street when the leak was first detected at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Polo Park, along with several area businesses, were evacuated as a precaution, and power was shut down for about 20,000 customers in the St. James and West End neighbourhoods.

The power was restored by Friday morning.

Manitoba Hydro crews drilled into the pavement to fix the pipe, said Owen, adding City of Winnipeg crews are responsible for fixing the pavement.

A city spokesperson said that on Monday afternoon, the northbound curb lane on Empress and the westbound curb lane on St. Matthews remain closed at the intersection.

The frost and thaw cycle damaging a natural gas pipe is unusual, Owen said, "but it's not unheard of."

A similar leak happened on Molson Street near Grassie Boulevard about six weeks ago because of ground shifting, he added.

The distinctive smell of a natural gas leak — like rotting eggs — is an additive placed in the gas so people can detect it. Owen said anyone who suspects there's a natural gas leak nearby should call Manitoba Hydro or 911 immediately.

"If you smell that pungent rotten eggs, you have to call the fire department or you certainly have to call us."