How do you handle a full-bore oil spill in the dead of winter?
For Trans Mountain, it’s all about practice.
The company that will twin its pipeline between Alberta and Burnaby conducted a full-scale emergency response simulation in Kamloops on Wednesday.
More than 200 people from the various organizations that would be involved in such an incident practised their spill-planning processes at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre, while Trans Mountain workers familiarized themselves with clean-up equipment in the field, at a simulated spill at Inks Lake, just south of the city.
Setting the scene for the simulated response, an excavator accidentally struck the pipeline, with diluted bitumen flowing over land and into a creek connecting to Jacko Lake in mid-February. Due to safety concerns, Inks Lake was used instead of the actual Jacko Lake.
In the simulation, the line was severed and leaked for 24 hours. Crews were tasked with cleaning up the large spill by cutting out blocks of lake ice in order to collect the crude.
Doing this results in the oil — which would be flowing between the water and crust of ice — to pop up through the hole in the ice, enabling workers to collect it using skimmers, Kelly Malinoski, Trans Mountain’s director of emergency management told KTW.
She said the most important aspect of responding to an oil spill is the environmental impacts.
About 30 people partook in the Inks Lake exercise, which involved using what is essentially a chain saw on skis to cut into the ice. Malinoski said the machine is used to ensure the cutting of straight lines through the ice for long distances.
About 30 emergency-response exercises are conducted every year along the entire pipeline route to ensure Trans Mountain workers and partner agencies are familiar with what to do should the real life situation ever occur.
Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell said the exercises involve various circumstances and scales to be prepared for anything, and the winter scenario is something done every couple of years in a few different locations. Exercises of Wednesday’s scope are conducted about twice a year — one each in the summer and winter to practise spill response under those specific conditions.
An important component of the simulation is conducting them with the various agencies that would be involved, Hounsell said.
There were more than 220 participants and observers from 25 different agencies practising the planning process out of the faux incident command centre on Wednesday, including City of Kamloops, Thompson-Nicola Regional District, B.C.’s Ministry of Environment, Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc and the Canada Energy Regulator (CER), formerly known as the National Energy Board.
Kent Lien, technical leader of emergency management for the CER, said he couldn’t stress the importance of Wednesday’s exercise enough.
“The value of meeting the other potential responsible players in event of emergency, you gain that personal contact with them and you’re able to discuss the roles and responsibilities, that’s incredibly valuable,” Lien said, noting the ability to practise the procedures enables improvement in emergency responses.
Lien said the CER wears two hats during the simulation — as participants operating at the incident command centre and as evaluators of the exercise.
“We’re always looking for continual improvement from the companies that we regulate,” he said, adding the CER will prepare a report on the emergency-response exercise.
The publicly available report will note any deficiencies or areas of improvement, which the CER will follow up on with the company.
Work on twinning the 28 kilometres of the Trans Mountain pipeline that travels through Kamloops will begin this spring.