Unsafe Digging Leaves Everlasting Impact

Damage to a small natural gas distribution pipeline destroyed one home, damaged several other homes, sent three individuals to emergency care, injured 40 others, displaced over 400 residents, and disrupted natural gas service for approximately 430 homes and businesses.

This took place in Canmore, Alberta, a small mountain town approximately 100 km/62 mi. west of Calgary and about 25 km/15 mi. east of Banff. This area is home to about 14,000 people, many wildlife species, and popular with tourists.

The gas line ruptured on June 26, 2015, which was the last day of the school year. People were very excited to start their summer vacation on this bluebird day but due to this unplanned event, many lives were affected and what was going to be the start of an exciting summer ended suddenly.

To this day, many people are left in bewilderment that no one was killed during this incident. It is extremely scary to think of the near misses that took place with people’s lives. As Mayor John Borrowman said to the Calgary Herald, “When you walk around there, somebody should have died. It looks like a war zone.”

The gas line that ruptured was adjacent to senior lodging, but thankfully it turned out the residents had moved from their rooms to the dining hall. A neighbor was out for a walk that day and ended up in a conversation with another neighbor down the street. The homeowner of the destroyed home was away that day. Another neighbor needed to go to the mailbox before the post office closed. Some of the residents were home, some were inside and others outside tending to their yards. There were so many near misses when it came to lives that it still rattles them today when they think about what happened.

The street today. The house shown is the rebuild. The gas line was hit between the original house and the senior lodging next to it.

What did happen? It seems a locate did not take place and a subcontractor struck the natural gas line and other events led up to this incident. Although there was a strong presence of gas in the air, the gas was not immediately turned off. The line exploded and the sound of the rumbling traveled for several kilometers. At first, people thought a train derailed or a plane crashed. People likened the sound to avalanche control which is common in the winter months; a loud thunderous boom shaking the ground.

Innocent people are left with vivid memories and some still are in counselling today. Some families lost everything and were in rental properties for up to 18 months. “There was structural damage to our home which disturbed the asbestos. All soft goods were destroyed,” one family member shared with me, six years later. “Our kids still want their old house back. They miss their things and old rooms.”

Alberta Occupational Health and Safety completed their investigation. The general contractor was fined $75,000. That’s it! Due to the lack of legislation, there are no other fines. Now, it continues with civil litigations.

An aerial view of the explosion site. Photo Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Outlook

Did this need to happen? Absolutely not. Taking shortcuts increases risk and sometimes that risk cannot be mitigated. Although One Call centers and utility owners have damage prevention programs, the messaging is sometimes ignored. With no teeth in legislation, some see it as a risk worth taking. Let us please remember the innocent in all of this – seniors, neighbors, businesses and tourists – people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Canmore, this gas line rupture impacted the community and those directly impacted continue to heal. Those memories will never be forgotten. Those memories are so real that when an earthquake took place 5 km/3 mi. north of Banff on February 13, 2021, residents in Canmore 25 km/15 mi. away, felt the rumble of the ground and those directly impacted by the 2015 gas line explosion experienced a fear that some of us don’t understand; many of them went outside to look for debris in the air as if another house had just exploded.

Pipelines safely and reliably transport natural gas and oil for products we rely on every day. We all need to remember to follow safe digging practices as these products require safe handling. Failure to do so can result in severe consequences. Luckily, no one was killed in Canmore on June 26, 2015, but the memories are everlasting.

Coral Lukaniuk, Principal of coRoc Solutions, specializes in program creation and engagement. Learn more at corocsolutions.com or contact Coral at coral@corocsolutions.com.

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