Prairie pipeline exercise anything but routine

Enbridge overcomes logistical challenges in innovative Souris River emergency response test

Ensuring the ongoing safety of the critical energy infrastructure we all rely on to fuel our economy is a job that must be done—no matter the circumstances. Such was the case when Enbridge held an emergency response training exercise along the Souris River in the Town of Wawanesa, Manitoba on May 19.

Activity was focused along the river within the town. A command post and staging area were set up and a flat-bottomed boat launched to deploy an oil containment boom over a span of some 500 feet across the shallow river. No actual crude oil products were used in the exercise scenario.

“The exercise was designed to test Enbridge’s ability to respond to an oil spill near our Mainline pipeline system,” explains Stephen Lloyd, a Manager of Emergency Management at Enbridge. “In addition to meeting a regulatory requirement of our Line 3 Replacement Program, this supports our ongoing effort to continuously practice and improve our emergency response capability on all waterways in proximity to pipeline operations and populated regions.”

Preparing for a potential emergency is a routine part of pipeline operations, but the Manitoba exercise was anything but routine. For example, the recent tightening of provincial COVID-19 guidelines on outdoor gatherings (from 10 to five persons) and restrictions on out-of-province visitors led Enbridge to revise and adapt its plans for the exercise.

“We had tremendous support from the RM (Oakland-Wawanesa) and the town, including the fire department and the school next door to the exercise,” says Steve Loney, Enbridge’s Senior Advisor of Community and Indigenous Engagement based out of Winnipeg. “People were warm and welcoming and waved at us when we were driving by in our company vehicles.

“Overall, it was a positive and highly collaborative exercise,” Loney says, noting an Indigenous cultural assessment and blessing the day prior and the use of Indigenous monitors onsite.

Participants followed provincial public health guidelines and Enbridge’s COVID-19 Safe Work Protocol which includes, proper social distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning guidelines, a pre-access health assessment, and other key activities. COVID-safe measures were in place to protect the public, Enbridge personnel and contractors during the exercise.

“Only those essential to running the exercise in the field, 30 people, were able to be onsite,” explains Lloyd. “We divided these individuals into six ‘pods’ of five each to comply with the current maximum limit on outdoor gatherings in Manitoba. During the exercise, the pods communicated by radio – at any given time, only one pod was on the river, in the staging area or Incident Command Centre.”

Another 160 people (Enbridge employees and invited observers) participated virtually via their home or office computers including the Province of Manitoba, Natural Resources Canada, the Canada Energy Regulator, and leadership of several Indigenous nations, governments and groups. They were able to see and hear Enbridge personnel responding to the simulated emergency scenario and tune into a separate online channel which guided them through what was happening, including live drone footage of the field activity.

“The pandemic created some unique logistical challenges that we were able to address and ultimately benefit from in managing this exercise,” concludes Sam Munckhof-Swain, Manager of Community and Indigenous Engagement at Enbridge. “While nothing can replace face-to-face communication, implementing new ways to observe these events through the use of technology is something we expect to deploy more in the future, whether out of necessity or not.”

(TOP PHOTO: Boom deployment across the Souris River, captured by a drone.)