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Trans Mountain details damage from storm

Pipeline should be back to full capacity by end of January
Juliet Bridge Coquihalla Hwy
Crews work on repairing the Juliet Bridge on the Coquihalla Highway. The route between Merritt and Hope remains closed after torrential rains of Nov. 14 and Nov. 15. Commercial traffic may return to the highway by early January.

The Trans Mountain pipeline is expected to return to full capacity by the end of January after the nearly 70-year-old infrastructure was washed out in 14 places due to unprecedented flooding last month.

The pipeline restarted its flow at reduced capacity on Dec. 12 after being shut off three weeks ago when rivers rose and mudslides tumbled down in B.C. between Merritt and Abbotsford.

Michael Davies, chief operating officer for Trans Mountain, told KTW the company is now analyzing data from a scanning tool it ran through the pipeline to detect if any further repairs are needed to the restoration work already completed.

“That’s part of a step towards getting back to full service,” Davies said, “We don’t expect to have any surprises from that tool, but in terms of final repair plans, that’ll inform our progress here.”

Repair work ongoing for Trans Mountain involves diverting river waters impacting the line back into their original channels and backfilling exposed areas of the pipe.

The majority of the 14 washouts occurred along a 30-kilometre section of the pipeline around the Coldwater River, between Merritt and the Coquihalla Summit. Davies said floodwaters jumped their banks and eroded some of the bends in the river into areas where the pipeline is located.

Of those 14 spots, half required thorough assessments of the line’s integrity.

“But out of all that, there was only one site, and it was where the Juliet River crossing is on the Coquihalla, where we had to repair some damage from the floods,” Davies said. “And that’s scratches and dents on the pipe from where there were boulders and things falling down the creek after it scoured the pipe out.”

The pipeline, which was built in 1953, did not sustain any breaches, Davies said, but some re-enforcing sleeves were added where it was exposed out of an abundance of caution.

Currently, the pipeline is flowing at reduced pressure through that stretch south of Merritt, which is limiting the pipeline’s 300,000 barrel per day capacity to 80 per cent.

Diverting the river and re-enforcing banks has made up the bulk of the work on the line to restore capacity and accessing those affected areas has been the biggest issue, Davies said, noting a fleet of seven helicopters was used to reach them.

Trans Mountain had as many as 570 workers repairing and assessing the damage on the pipeline, including construction crews already in the area for the Trans Mountain expansion project who were diverted to the recovery effort. Workers also helped clear highways and deliver food to isolated First Nations.

Restoring the original line to full capacity is the company’s primary goal, and, Davies said, it is too early to determine how long a delay to the expansion project has been caused by needed repairs to the existing pipeline. He said there will need to be changes to construction methods in areas where the Coldwater river changed course.

The pipeline was shut down for 21 days, which is the longest amount of time it has been off in its history — the previous high being just five days.

The shutdown lead to gasoline rationing in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, Davies noted.

He said regular monitoring of weather and river levels helped ensure the pipeline was shut off on Nov. 14, just as flood waters began to hit their peak.