August 29, 2005

Well blowout probe leads to enforcement action for Acclaim Energy

An investigation by the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) of the 30-day blowout of a gas well owned by Acclaim Energy has resulted in the Board's issuing the company a Major Level 2 Enforcement Action for Acclaim's failure to determine an initial emergency planning zone (EPZ). This requires the company to take immediate corrective action to address the noncompliance item, which Acclaim has done, and to ensure compliance at all similar sites in the province. The company must also submit a documented action plan to the EUB to ensure that the issue does not recur.

The final report on the incident by an EUB investigation team has made 16 recommendations on matters ranging from operations to emergency response to environmental impacts. The blowout, which occurred as a result of a downhole explosion, occurred in Acclaim's Acheson field in Parkland County, just west of Edmonton's city limits. It began on December 12, 2004 and was finally brought under control by January 11, 2005 (ELW January 17, 2005).

One of the report's main conclusions was that Acclaim failed to calculate an EPZ for the service operations on the well. It also determined that there were communication problems on the first day between the company, the Board and other government agencies.

Based on the characteristics of the well available at the time of the blowout, including gas composition and flow rate, the EPZ had a radius of 220 metres and included no residences. When the explosion occurred, however, the on-site personnel did not know the size of the EPZ for the well because the calculations for its determination had not been made.

The absence of the necessary information about the size of the EPZ led to the evacuation of more than 500 residents of Parkland County, including the town of Enoch. If the on-site personnel had known the EPZ, says the report, the evacuation likely would have been avoided. The response was overly protective, but public safety was not compromised by the evacuation.

Nevertheless, some residents remained out of the area for duration of the blowout due to impacts from the high level of activity at the site.

Consequently, the EUB issued Acclaim the enforcement action, although its report also found that public safety was never compromised during the incident and there have been no lasting environmental impacts from the blowout.

The report makes particular note of the effectiveness of actions taken to secure the immediate area and bring the well under control. For example, although some areas were subjected to strong hydrogen sulphide (H2S) odours during the first few days of the blowout, there was no risk to public safety. In fact, says the report, air monitoring showed that H2S levels never reached a point where notification would even be required, much less evacuation (in accordance with Alberta Health and Wellness standards).

The investigation team concludes, however, that the EUB should have categorized the incident at Level 3 (the highest level) sooner due to the evacuation. Had this happened, a more co-ordinated response by Acclaim and the government agencies would have occurred earlier. This would have resulted in clearer and timelier information about the incident and its impacts being communicated to everyone involved, including the public. The EUB elevated the incident to Level 3 early on the second day.

In preparing its report, the investigation team considered Acclaim's reports and information provided by other parties, together with EUB staff observations, knowledge, and experience. Assisting the investigation as science and technical advisors were University of Alberta engineering professor emeritus Dr David Wilson, former energy executive Ray Woods, and Jim Dilay of the EUB.

The EUB has accepted all recommendations made by the investigation team, and has committed to implementing those that relate directly to the Board. The full report may be viewed on the EUB Web site, www.eub.gov.ab.ca.

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