Prepared for anything – the role of the emergency response plan in pipeline operations

When a new pipeline is built, safety is the number one priority. That starts right at the planning and design stages, when environmental and engineering assessments are completed, the safest route is selected and materials are chosen.

What many people don’t realize is, before the first pipe is laid in the ground a detailed emergency response plan is also put into place. Even though 99.999 per cent of the product transported in Canada’s transmission pipelines reaches its destination safely, operators are legally required by their respective provincial or federal regulator to plan for all possibilities.

Elements of an emergency response plan

Pipeline operators have an emergency response plan for every pipeline they operate – each one is tailored to the type of product being transported, environmental considerations along the route and more.

These plans outline exactly how to effectively manage any kind of emergency. In the event of an incident, the plan covers every required step from start to finish, and may include:

    • Closing valves and shutting down systems to stop the leak
    • Dispatching first responders and clean-up crews
    • Getting spill response equipment to the site
    • Containing the product to minimize spreading
    • Notifying regulatory bodies
    • Ensuring the safety of the public, employees and contractors, and evacuating if necessary
    • Protecting wildlife, water bodies and vegetation
    • Identifying and repairing the damaged section of pipeline
    • Cleaning up, remediating and restoring the site, at no cost to the public
    • Monitoring the site over time to determine if any further action is required

Around each of these actions, the plan details procedures, allocates roles, responsibilities and a chain of command and defines communication.

The plan addresses different scenarios and identifies potential hazards for people or the environment. It also outlines actions and mitigations for all these possibilities.

Response exercises test the process

The most robust plan is only as effective as the people implementing it, so pipeline operators test their emergency response plans. CEPA members held 386 emergency response exercises in 2015, as these exercises provide an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of  the plan in different scenarios, and ensure that employees, first responders, local agencies and authorities are clear and confident on the procedures and roles. CEPA members have also agreed to assist each other in an event of an emergency through the Mutual Emergency Assistance Agreement.

You can learn more about how pipeline operators plan for, and respond to, emergencies in our emergency response factsheet (PDF). And check out these recent blog posts for information on some of the other ways they prepare for emergencies: