Anatomy of a pipeline incident: responding to emergencies (part 2)

This is part of a blog post series about the performance of the pipeline industry as detailed in the 2018 Transmission Pipeline Industry Performance Report. You can read the full report at

In last week’s post, we answered some of the common questions we get from Canadians about pipeline incidents, including what a significant incident is and what the common causes are.

This post explores CEPA members’ process for responding to an emergency.

How do companies deal with an incident?


In the unlikely event that an incident occurs, CEPA members initiate a process for responding immediately. The process outlined below reflects the general practices of CEPA members, however the process for each member may differ slightly based on its particular operations.

Phase 1: Initiate shut down of the pipeline immediately if a leak is reported, detected or suspected. Sophisticated 24/7 control rooms have detection systems that sound an alarm if any abnormalities are detected. Valves located at key points in the line stop the flow or divert product to holding areas. The primary focus is on public safety and protection of the environment.

Phase 2: Launch the emergency response plan (ERP), which every CEPA member has in place – they are designed to address a wide range of emergency scenarios and outline the process for handling them.

In this phase, personnel are dispatched to the incident location immediately. Their target is to set up an Incident Command System within two hours to ensure an efficient, effective and coordinated response. Provincial and federal government regulators and emergency services are notified, and notifications to local governments and communities, including Indigenous communities, are made.

Phase 3: Mobilize first responders. Initial company responders arrive on scene within three hours. They are prepared to analyze the situation and start clean-up. These responders go through extensive training and exercises to prepare for any pipeline emergency. The media and stakeholders are kept informed about the incident.

Phase 4: Additional response equipment and crews arrive. These crews are on-site within six hours, bringing additional heavy equipment and crews to the scene including biologists, environmental experts and clean-up specialists. Experts will remain on site as long as it takes to clean up the area and repair the leak.

Phase 5: Determine the cause. An investigation is launched to determine the cause of the leak, sometimes concurrently with the earlier phases. Regulators and other organizations are involved in this process, and steps are taken to reduce the chances of it happening again.

Phase 6: Remediation. If necessary, experts return to the site to return it to its original condition. For example, contaminated soil may be removed and vegetation restored. The site is then monitored, sometimes for years. The operator will ensure they have ongoing communications with the appropriate regulator(s) and other stakeholders.

The appropriate regulator provides permission to the pipeline operator to restore service to the pipeline. This permission may include conditions for continued operation, such as having the pipeline operate at a reduced pressure, complete engineering assessments and/or perform field tests to ensure safe operation.

Liability for the spill


The Pipeline Safety Act states Canadian pipeline companies are liable for the complete cost of a pipeline spill, should the company be at fault. Working with the regulator, CEPA members ensure the area is cleaned, remediated and reparations are made. In fact, major transmission pipeline operators must have a minimum of $1 billion in financial capacity to handle an incident.

Read more about how we prevent and respond to incidents in the 2018 Transmission Pipeline Industry Performance report.