Pipeline emergency preparedness: Ready and willing in the depths of winter

North Dakota responders to sharpen winter spill recovery tactics on Devils Lake this week

Why will emergency responders from across North Dakota be out on the Devils Lake ice this week?

Because pipeline emergency preparedness doesn’t take winter breaks.

Starting Tuesday, nearly 125 Enbridge staff and regional first responders will be gathering in the Devils Lake area for a three-day emergency response drill focused on winter spill containment and recovery tactics.

“What I like seeing out of these events is the great teamwork and partnerships that are created,” notes Kristen Nelsen, the emergency manager for North Dakota’s Ramsey County. “We’re putting faces to names—forging relationships between our local responders and Enbridge themselves, and pairing up with other organizations outside our own first responder circle.

“This is critical collaboration that’s taking place, should a real-life incident ever occur.”

This week’s three-day full-scale exercise, organized by Enbridge, will involve representatives of Ramsey County Emergency Management, North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, the Devils Lake City and Rural Fire Departments, the Spirit Lake Tribe Fire Department, and other organizations.

Based on a simulated third-party strike on Enbridge’s Line 81, drill participants will be deployed to Six Mile Bay, on a northeastern arm of Devils Lake, for a number of field duties including:

  • Using specialized ice saws to cut long slots in the lake ice;
  • Deploying skimmer systems to contain and recover oil;
  • Public notification and protection of water intakes;
  • Educating first responders on pipeline emergencies; and
  • Measuring response times and analyzing lessons learned.

“These exercises build a partnership between Enbridge and local response agencies,” says Ryan Nelson, Enbridge’s emergency response and security coordinator in North Dakota. “They help improve the overall preparedness of all parties, if they ever need to respond to a pipeline event in winter conditions.”

From 2013 through 2016, Enbridge held an average of 385 exercises, drills and equipment deployment events each year across our North American operations. We hope we never have to respond to a pipeline leak. But if we do, we’re ready.

“Enbridge has always partnered really well with our county—and, I’m sure, with counties across the board. They’re a great entity to work with,” says Nelsen. “If we want to know more specifics about handling a pipeline emergency, and include certain activities in a drill, they’re very accommodating.

“They like to see local participation and involvement, and coordinate things to suit our needs.”