A natural gas pipeline operated by TransCanada exploded and caught fire on Saturday in the Canadian province of Manitoba, leaving thousands without heat in below-freezing temperatures. Though there were no evacuated injuries from the blast or the fire, which burned for more than 12 hours, the explosion has highlighted TransCanada’s safety record as the company pushes for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Neb. Al Jazeera reports: "We could see these massive 200- to 300-meter high flames just shooting out of the ground and it literally sounded like a jet plane," said resident Paul Rawluk to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "The police were by [Highway] 59 and you could just see little cars out there and you could see in comparison how big the flame was. It was just literally 200 to 300 metres in the air. And bright, I mean lit up the sky." The incident comes as the safety record of all pipeline operators face increased scrutiny as they build infrastructure across the continent for natural gas and oil. In addition to the Keystone XL, plans are under way for construction of several export terminals on the Pacific Coast, with the aim of making Canada, the world's third largest producer of natural gas, an exporter of liquefied natural gas to Asia. A recent Wall Street Journal review found that there were 1,400 pipeline spills and accidents in the United States since 2010. In September, a farmer in North Dakota found 20,000 gallons of oil from a pipeline spilled on his land. According to the Journal review, four in every five pipeline accidents are discovered by local residents, not the companies that own the pipelines. TransCanada and Manitoba Hydro, the electric power and natural gas utility for the province of Manitoba, have told the estimated 4,000 residents currently without gas in -20-degree Celsius weather to “prepare themselves for an outage that could last several days.” Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has yet to decide whether to allow Transcanada to begin construction on Keystone XL.
Danayit Musse is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.