Pipeline industry prepared for ‘normal’ seasonal emergencies during the pandemic

The highest priority for every energy pipeline company is protecting the public, the environment and its employees from harm.

CEPA members are serious about preventing emergencies. And they have extensive plans in place should one occur at any stage – from design and build, to maintenance and daily operations

Throughout the global pandemic, and every day, Canada’s pipelines deliver gas, oil, and other fuels Canadians need. They follow all the safety advice from health care authorities and government officials. And they’ve taken extra steps to keep their employees safe. In other words, pipelines are fully prepared to respond to emergencies during these uncertain times, as well as to seasonal emergencies, like wildfires and floods.


So, how is preparing for ‘normal’ seasonal emergencies different now?


About Pipelines posed this question to Niki Affleck, one of the people helping CEPA member Plains Midstream Canada prepare for seasonal emergencies.

It turns out standard protocols that keep pipelines safe remain the same. For example, practices for managing flood emergencies include monitoring water crossings closely. Operators assess different threshold levels and apply the required measures for each water level. They use these protocols to adapt approaches and prevent emergencies.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to change some aspects of how they manage emergencies.


Three changes to how pipeline companies prepare, practice and make sure they’re ready to respond to seasonal emergencies.


1. Virtual exercises

All pipeline companies have wide-ranging emergency response plans for seasonal emergencies, including wildfires and flooding. Pipeline companies test these plans often, using realistic emergency simulations that help them learn and improve. Tests typically happen in face-to-face sessions. But, because of new guidance that limits gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have turned to conducting emergency response exercises remotely. Asked how that change is going so far, Affleck, who’s an Emergency Management Specialist says, “It’s a new way of doing business and it’s working well.” Affleck notes, “Completing our training remotely during an actual pandemic is teaching us a lot about navigating various communication barriers and allows us to develop ideal solutions.”


2. Involving external partners in virtual exercises

Emergency response exercises may include several external partners, such as first responders and regulators. So, with the change in approach during the pandemic lockdown, companies have had to take steps to involve those partners in the virtual exercises. Affleck points out, “We received excellent feedback from the regulatory representative who participated in the first remote exercise. For us, it’s critical to involve external partners to create the most realistic and robust response training possible. We’re thankful that our partners are flexible and eager to continue their involvement.”


3. A high state of readiness

Plains Midstream is now more prepared to manage seasonal emergencies during the pandemic. They’ve established a virtual incident command post and emergency operations centre, which allow people to gather quickly and can make for even faster response times. Other tools include a dedicated conference line and processes to upload data immediately and communicate with each other efficiently. Their response teams can also access incident management systems remotely to manage the emergency.


CEPA members continue to monitor updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so helps them keep essential services employees safe and available for regular operations, and all types of seasonal emergencies. And Canadians can continue to count on reliable energy supply for their daily needs.

Check out some of our other recent blogs: