HALIFAX – A natural gas leak prompted the evacuation of up to 50 businesses in Burnside Wednesday morning.
Deputy Fire Chief Roy Hollett said crews punctured the gas line near Akerley Boulevard and Joseph Zatzman Drive around 8:45 a.m.
“Now it’s leaking quite a bit,” he said.
Power to the area was shut down and traffic was diverted as crews worked to contain the leak.
“The LEL, lower explosive limit levels, were high enough that it was a concern for us to expand the area of the evacuation considerably,” Hollett said.
“We’ve opened up some sewer covers and the levels have dropped enough to where it’s more or less being cautious right now than an immediate hazard.”
Hollett explained the levels were between nine to 11 per cent. He said 14 to 15 per cent connotes an immediate risk of an explosion.
“We’re always concerned. We’re just monitoring the area, monitoring the levels and doing everything we can to dissipate the gas from the sewers and the area,” Hollett said.
“Natural gas is lighter than air so it leaks and it will all go up. Our concern was it was going through the sewers and into the buildings.”
Sam Walker works at Olympia Tile, which was evacuated by firefighters.
“They told everybody in the building we had to leave. Everybody was calm, cool and collected,” he said.
“We were just told everybody had to leave for the day because they don’t know how long it’s going to be.”
Tom Duggan works at Industrial Safety World, which was near the site of the leak.
“We could smell the gas but thankfully the wind was blowing uphill an took the gas away from us,” he said.
For some businesses, the leak was more than an inconvenience. Geoff Taylor owns Dartmouth Surplus, which was not evacuated by the leak but was affected by the traffic detours.
“We closed the door. We had no power. We had to send some staff home,” Taylor said.
He estimates the business lost thousands of dollars in sales due to the disruption.
“We’re always worried about shutting down for the whole day. If you’re missing sales, they’re gone. You don’t really get them back. You just deal with the issue and re-open as soon as you can.”
The leak was pinched about two hours later and Heritage Gas crews worked to repair the rupture. The evacuation order was lifted and Akerley Boulevard was re-opened to traffic. Power was also restored to the area.
Heritage Gas said the crews that ruptured the gas line were not its workers but rather a third-party.
The municipality confirmed to Global News that the contractor is Dexter Construction, which was awarded a tender to do sidewalk work in Burnside.
HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott said contractors are required to take precautions before beginning any work.
“All contractors that work for HRM, when they win a contract, they’re required to see all the different pipes that are underground in the area where they’re going to be doing their work. Whether it be natural gas, electrical lines, they have an obligation before the work to see where the hot spots might be,” Elliott said.
“In this case, we would assume that work would have been done but we can’t speak about specifics of this case.”
Elliott said contractors are also required to get updated mapping of the areas they are working on every 14 days.
He said the municipality will be investigating whether Dexter Construction performed the appropriate checks and balances.
Elliott could not comment specifically on Wednesday’s event and whether the company could face any repercussions such as penalties or fines.
Global News reached out to Dexter Construction for an explanation but the company declined to comment.
The municipality said the contractor will be allowed to continue work in the Burnside area.
Here’s a map of other recent gas leaks in the Halifax-area: