Industry delivering energy safely during COVID-19 health crisis — “Now more than ever”

Canada’s oil, natural gas and electricity companies focused on keeping lights on, buildings warm and supplies moving

By Grady Semmens
Photograph courtesy Canadian Energy Pipeline Association

Thousands of women and men across the country are doing their part during the COVID-19 health crisis to ensure the energy that fuels Canadian communities continues to flow.

With their focus on safety and emergency preparedness, Canada’s oil, natural gas and electricity companies are well prepared to provide the essential service of keeping lights on, buildings warm and supplies moving, as well as generating the raw materials needed for the countless products and technologies we rely on in our homes, offices and hospitals.

“Pipeline companies have business continuity and emergency response plans so that critical operations can continue despite disruptions,” says Chris Bloomer, President of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.  “They plan for disruptions that range from severe weather to natural disasters, mass evacuations … and a global pandemic like we are experiencing right now.”

As providers of an essential public service, the energy and utilities sectors say they have activated response plans that have been informed by previous public health emergencies such as the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. Steps companies take to protect employees’ health and prevent the spread of the virus include enabling many employees to work from home, utilizing back-up control centres to allow greater physical distancing between employees and appropriate sanitization of work stations.

ATCO’s COVID-19 response webpage outlines some of the actions the company is taking from the Canadian Arctic to Australian Outback. “We’re doing what we can to flatten the curve of COVID-19 while maintaining our essential operations and keeping our people safe and healthy,” the company states.

In central Canada, Enbridge Gas – which provides natural gas for 3.8 million customers in Ontario and Quebec – is delaying non-priority work, providing additional protective gear for employees visiting customer homes and businesses, and requiring employees to stay home if they feel unwell.

Power companies are taking similar steps:

“Operators, technicians, and trades at our nuclear, hydro and thermal stations are ensuring our units are generating power safely and reliably; nuclear and dam safety workers are protecting the community and our operations; hygiene advisors are working to assess employees’ health; and our security teams, emergency response personnel, and cleaning staff are continuing to keep our sites safe,” says Ken Hartwick, president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation, which is responsible for providing half of Ontario’s electricity supply.

Ontario’s nuclear power plants are also the source of half of the world’s supply of Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope that is used to sterilize approximately 40 per cent of world’s single-use medical devices, including syringes, gloves, and surgical instruments.

“The employees involved in harvesting Cobalt-60 from our nuclear reactors take tremendous pride in knowing that the work they’re doing is helping people here at home and in many other countries,” says James Scongack, Executive Vice-President, Corporate Affairs and Operational Services for Bruce Power, the world’s largest nuclear power facility in Tiverton, Ontario that generates one-third of Ontario’s power.

Canada’s upstream oil and gas producers are also considered an essential service, and companies say they are implementing significant health and safety measures to ensure workers in often-remote operations and construction facilities are adequately protected from disease.

Many of the country’s largest oil and gas producers are stepping up their support for communities during the pandemic – providing discounts at their gas stations for health care workers, and donating products to help fight the disease.

“Now more than ever, essential services such as healthcare, food distribution and sanitation depend on a reliable energy supply,” says Michael Crothers, President and Country Chair of Shell Canada. “But what is less known is that our industry is also making some of the key ingredients in products that are helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 such as hand sanitizers, soaps and surface cleaners.”

Critical pipeline projects continue

In British Columbia and Alberta, work continues on the country’s largest energy projects, which are critical to expanding access for Canadian oil and gas to international markets. The workforce involved in building the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, B.C. has been temporarily reduced by 65 per cent in order to reduce the number of people travelling to and from the site. Similarly, the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that will provide the natural gas for LNG Canada says it is only allowing workers that are critical for construction to continue working and is scaling back activity to align with the typical slowdown during the spring breakup period in northern B.C.

Work is also continuing on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, with workers directed to follow physical distancing practices and take extra precautions that are being taken to minimize the number of people at construction sites.

And work is also expected to begin immediately on the Keystone XL pipeline project, following the announcement that TC Energy is partnering with the Government of Alberta to build the long-delayed pipeline to move Canadian oil to U.S. markets.

“Construction will advance only after every consideration for the health and safety of our people, their families and of those in the surrounding communities has been taken into account,” said TC Energy’s President and CEO Russ Girling.

For more information and resources related to COVID-19: