Councillor calls for better communication from Fortis after 140 calls to gas company in June

Mistaken increase in natural gas odorant behind the increased calls June 7 and 13

Coun. Gerry Dyble said better communication is needed from Fortis BC after a mistaken increase in the odour levels in Hope’s natural gas supply prompted 140 calls to the company this month.

While performing maintenance on June 7, Fortis BC mistakenly put too much oudourant into their gas lines, resulting in 100 people in Hope calling the company after smelling gas in their homes. On June 13, another 40 calls were received by the company, manager of corporate communications Sean Beardow said, the cause of this second round is still being investigated but could be due to ‘small pockets of gas’ with extra odourant remaining in the lines as less gas is used during the summer.

Beardow confirmed the company put information about the odourant issue out on their Twitter feed, however Dyble said this is not enough to reach those who are affected in Hope.

“When I called Fortis, all they had indicated was that it was a city-wide issue. Well there was nothing on their website and nor were we notified of the issue. And that was the first time around,” she told a council meeting Monday. “The concern is that you have this mass hysteria from the community that there is this gas leak…You have people who don’t use social media for their source of information. Seniors at home wondering what’s going on, they’re exiting their homes and standing outside their homes waiting for a technician to come, five hours later.”

Apart from social media, there are a number of other ways Fortis BC communicates with customers Beardow said. The call centre is the ‘front line’ for customer concerns and he said the call centre gets facts around any emergency quickly and can share it with people who call in.

Natural gas is odourless, Beardow explained, so an odourant called mercaptan is added to the gas which smells like rotten eggs. The chemical is added so people who have a leak will smell it and take action.

He said all the people who called Fortis BC had a technician dispatched to follow up. In normal circumstances, someone from Fortis BC would attend within the hour, however during the high volume this took longer. Some of those who called in from Hope had small gas leaks, not posing any danger to them, however Beardow said these people were encouraged to call a gas contractor to fix the leaks.

Dyble asked the district to follow up with Fortis BC to ask what their public statement is in the case of an issue like this and why the issue has happened twice in the last month.

John Fortoloczky, chief administrative officer with the district, recommended staff draft a letter ‘very strongly suggesting’ the company advertise and do a better job communicating issues like the odourant increase.

Beardow stated Fortis BC would also be assessing ‘how we communicate with municipal governments and emergency services in cases of higher than normal levels of odourant or similar non-critical incidents.’

He reminded residents of the standard procedure if people smell rotten eggs or hear the sound of gas escaping in their homes: leave your home immediately, once outside call Fortis emergency line (1-800-663-9911) or 911.

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