August 2017, Vol. 244, No. 8


ATCO Meets Wildfire Chaos with Heroic Response

Some of the ATCO employees honored by CGA for their outstanding efforts during the Fort McMurray wildfire.

Like others in the oil and gas industry, the Canadian Gas Association (CGA) and its membership hold safety in the highest regard, and every year the 110-year-old organization honors deserving companies for outstanding performances in that area.

But when the CGA, in considering the effort Alberta-based ATCO delivered following last year’s Fort McMurray wildfires, decided it needed to establish a one-of-a-kind honor for the local distribution company’s exceptional work, we at P&GJ realized this deserved special mention in our pages as well.

The President’s Safety Award for Excellence was presented by CGA President and CEO Timothy M. Egan in appreciation of ATCO’s round-the-clock emergency response efforts that followed the May 2016 catastrophe.

Before it was finally contained, the historic blaze forced over 80,000 people from a 1.5 million-acre area around Fort McMurray, and destroyed over 2,400 buildings that were in its path. While insurance losses were estimated at $4 billion, quick work by well-trained emergency responders was credited for playing a large part in the fact that no fatalities were linked directly to the fire.

“The Safety Awards recognize CGA member companies and employees for exemplary commitment to health and safety excellence,” Egan said. “These companies and individuals made significant contributions to safe operations and the reliable delivery of natural gas to the benefit of all Canadians.”

ATCO CEO Nancy Southern told Canadian Business that her company had about 350 people on the ground in Fort McMurray at the time of the wildfire, with the first big challenge occurring when the blaze made contact with a major gate station – the facility where pressure is decreased in larger pipelines so gas can pass through smaller pipes for distribution. Fire eventually melted the glass in the building that surrounded the gate station.

“It didn’t shatter it. It wasn’t an explosion. It actually melted the whole thing, and we haven’t found the top of the gate to this day,” Southern said. “Our people were focusing on that while at the same time they were thinking about getting their families out of the city. Then the electrical wires were all coming down, and the wires were live, so they were in danger of igniting more fires. It was real pandemonium.”

“This was truly an unprecedented, cross-company effort that brought people from across our enterprise together as one team, and we are tremendously proud of the work they have done,” said George Lidgett, managing director, Pipelines & Liquids with ATCO. “Their tireless efforts during and after the crisis are a testament to the ATCO Heart and Mind – going far above and beyond the call of duty for our customers.”

A significant part of that response came when ATCO opened the doors to Creeburn Lake and Barge Landing lodges north of Fort McMurray, a joint venture the company operates with the Fort McKay First Nation, to displaced residents. The lodges provided beds, washrooms and meals to thousands of displaced people.

At the same time, a camp was established for 40 ATCO employees and other emergency personnel who worked to rebuild community infrastructure. Within days, the camp had grown to nearly 200 emergency responders, ATCO said. In the following weeks, a second camp was built in the subdivision of Saline Creek, which accommodated another 250 people.

In May, ATCO donated 10,000 meals to emergency responders and during the re-entry period in early June, over 60 staff members provided 56,000 meals in just eight days to returning residents.

ATCO  serves 1.1 million natural gas customers in 300 communities where its nearly 2,000 gas employees make their homes. That connection to the importance to community was certainly on display during this historic effort.

While it’s difficult to single out individuals for credit in situations that develop so fast, the success of the Fort McMurray effort could only have been made possible by the commitment of everyone at ATC0 – top to bottom.

The CGA also recognized four utilities as recipients of the 2017 Safety Award(s) for Excellence (SAFE) at its 2017 Operations, Engineering and Integrity Conference. The annual awards were presented to AltaGas Utilities, Enbridge Gas Distribution, Union Gas and Heritage Gas.

The Public Safety Award was given to Jeff Walter, Supervisor, Quality Assurance & Damage Prevention, AltaGas Utilities, for his involvement in spreading the word in his community about damage prevention and the importance of safe digging. AltaGas Utilities also received the Corporate Safety Award for Vehicular Safety.

Enbridge Gas Distribution received the Worker Safety Award for its Environment, Health and Safety Department’s “Working Safely This Season” campaign, which was created to prevent workplace injuries.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Wayne Robinson from Union Gas for his commitment to enhancing safety at work and in his community. Heritage Gas received the Corporate Safety Award for Employee Safety.

“Spotlight on Utilities,” a new feature of P&GJ, highlights some of the innovations and achievements of those in the business of providing natural gas to homes and businesses. If you have a suggestion for inclusion in the column, email

Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}