Emergency response: The pipeline industry puts itself to the test

What happens if a pipeline leaks in Canada? How will a pipeline company respond?

If a major incident occurs on a CEPA member’s line, other companies show up to help protect communities and the environment. That is why CEPA’s members organized a joint emergency management exercise on Wednesday to test and strengthen their ability to work together if they need to respond to an emergency.

“Today marks a significant milestone for CEPA members – because today we test our ability to effectively collaborate, communicate and respond to a pipeline emergency,” said Dr. Brenda Kenny, CEPA’s president and CEO, during the inaugural CEPA Joint Emergency Management Exercise in Edmonton, Alta.

The joint exercise was the first of its kind for the industry and was aimed at testing the Mutual Emergency Assistance Agreement (MEAA), which CEPA’s members signed in November 2013. The agreement formalized the industry practice of sharing human resources, equipment and tools between companies in the event of a significant incident.

How the CEPA Joint Emergency Management Exercise worked:

The incident command post at the CEPA Joint Emergency Management Exercise

The incident command post at the CEPA Joint Emergency Management Exercise

Pipeline-related emergencies are rare. However, the MEAA allows any CEPA member company to ask for assistance from another member company in the unlikely event of a major incident. Because Wednesday’s exercise was designed to test the MEAA, companies followed the protocol outlined by the agreement during a simulated emergency.

“MEAA is really what we are exercising – focusing on the lessons learned (during the exercise) and collaborating as an industry,” said Stephen Lloyd, senior manager of emergency and security management at Enbridge Pipelines and chair of the committee that planned the emergency management exercise.

Effectively coordinating emergency response

Under the MEAA, the pipeline company requesting assistance directs the overall emergency response. Other member companies work within Incident Command System (ICS) protocols while providing assistance to ensure the response is effective and efficient and communication is kept open. (ICS is a management system used by many pipeline operators for the command, control and coordination of emergency response.)

Wednesday’s simulation was a functional exercise, which means emergency protocols were carried out from an active command post, but people and equipment were not moved to a real site.

The exercise helped CEPA’s member companies test and refine the industry’s collaboration during an emergency by improving overall communication and response.

“Any incident is everyone’s incident”

CEPA's president and CEO, Brenda Kenny, speaks at the CEPA Joint Emergency Management Exercise

CEPA’s president and CEO, Brenda Kenny, speaks at the CEPA Joint Emergency Management Exercise

Pipeline companies are required by regulations to conduct their own emergency response drills. However, Wednesday’s joint exercise was not mandatory. It was organized by CEPA’s members because they want to have a well-tested plan in place and they want to continuously improve pipeline safety by working together.

“CEPA member companies have voluntarily chosen through MEAA to work together and improve response capabilities by sharing resources and best practices during an emergency,” said Kenny. “This collaboration is an indication that in our industry, when it comes to safety, there is no competition, but only collaboration. Any incident is everyone’s incident.”

Learn more next week

The CEPA Joint Emergency Management Exercise also included a showcase of emergency response equipment. Next week’s blog post will explore and explain some of the specialized equipment that pipeline operators have ready to respond to emergencies in different terrains and seasons.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.