A pipeline explosion in British Columbia risks cutting off the flow of Canadian natural gas to Washington State, and companies are urging customers to conserve.
The blast Tuesday evening shut down the Enbridge natural gas pipeline about 600 miles northeast of Vancouver.
Doug Stout of Fortis BC said Wednesday that 85 percent of the gas his company feeds to homes and businesses is carried by the twinned pipeline that runs from northern British Columbia to the United States border south of Vancouver.
"There is a potential impact on Seattle and north of Seattle," Stout said.
The damaged Enbridge pipeline connects to the Northwest Pipeline system, which feeds Puget Sound Energy in Washington State and Northwest Natural Gas in Portland.
Washington State-based Puget Sound Energy is urging its 750,000 customers to lower their thermostats and limit hot water use at least through Wednesday.
No one was hurt when the fireball lit up the sky near the community of Shelley, British Columbia and forced about 100 members of the nearby Lheidli T'enneh First Nation from their homes.
Witness Terry Teegee said the blast shook the area at about 5:30 p.m.
"We thought it might have been a train crash or a low-flying jet," he said.
Zachary Semotiuk said he saw a "huge flash," followed by a "raging fire," that was easily visible above the tree line from several kilometers away.
Chief Dominic Frederick with the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation said Enbridge contacted him shortly after the blast.
"They had told me there was gas building up in the underground. For some reason or another the gas had stopped flowing and it built up and it just exploded," Frederick said.
As many as 700,000 customers in northern British Columbia, the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island could be directly affected by a shortage, Stout said.
Stout urged another 300,000 customers in the Okanagan and southeastern British Columbia, to conserve even though their natural gas comes from Alberta.
Currently Fortis has reserves still in the pipeline south of Prince George, in its liquefied natural gas storage tanks in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island, and there is some gas flowing from Alberta through a pipeline in southern British Columbia, Stout said.
Fortis expected to receive updates on the situation as Transportation Safety Board investigators and National Energy Board inspectors arrived to assess the damage and attempt to determine a cause.
The company will update its customers as soon as it is in a position to offer something new, Stout said.