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Calgary company changes plea to guilty for charges from Canmore 2015 gas explosion

CALGARY – The last company facing charges from the 2015 Canmore gas explosion that completely demolished a house and damaged several more, has changed its plea to guilty.

On Dec. 16, APM Construction Service Inc. withdrew its non-guilty plea and entered a guilty plea for the five charges it was facing under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Code at the Calgary Provincial Courthouse.

The incident happened more than four years ago at the beginning of the expansion project for the Bow River Seniors Lodge, when a sub-contractor struck an ATCO gas line on June 26, 2015, resulting in one house along 13th Street blowing up and damaging over a dozen more in the neighbourhood.

In an agreed statement of facts, the court heard that a worker with Ground Zero Grading Inc., on the project struck the gas line with the shovel of a mechanical excavator and when the shovel was lifted the gas line was torn up and out of the ground. 

The line, containing pressurized methane gas, was owned and operated by ATCO Gas and Pipelines Ltd., who the subcontractor supervisor notified immediately. The main contractor, APM, also became aware of the leaking gas line and was present, along with the subcontractor, Ground Zero Grading Inc., when the ATCO worker technician arrived, the statement reads.

While the technician was assessing the seriousness of the leak, there was a strong smell of gas in the air where the line was hit and also in a nearby alley west of the worksite where the T-Connection between the gas line and larger main gas line had come apart. During this time, the gas plume was migrating toward the nearby neighbourhood.

"After taking gas measurements, the ATCO technician, who appeared to be communicating with a supervisor intermittently via phone, did not proceed with operations to shut off the gas. The ATCO technician instead requested that APM and subcontractor personnel assist him by digging in the alleyway, to expose the T-Connection and allow the gas leak to vent. There were no other ATCO employees in the local area that could assist," the statement read.

The ATCO technician said only workers who were willing to voluntarily assist with digging should help.

"A project manager of APM proceeded to direct all of the Ground Zero workers that were standing nearby to immediately assist with digging," the statement read.

"None of the parties called the Canmore Fire Department or police to assist, although several workers, at the request of the ATCO technician, encouraged residents who were outside their homes, to go inside and not to smoke."

During the half an hour the contractors dug, the agreed statement of facts said several APM and subcontractor personnel requested that ATCO shut off the gas to the mainline, but instead the technician focused on the digging strategy.

The statement said, as the workers dug into the ground, the sound of leaking gas became louder and the smell of gas became more prevalent.

"Small stones and dirt within the hole also began to visibly tremble due to the force of leaking gas. Eventually, the ATCO technician told the workers that the gas levels were too high and that they should get away from the hole," the agreed facts stated.

The ATCO technician left the site to turn off the gas valves, but was only successful in turning off one of the two valves before the house at 924 13th St. exploded. No one was in the home at the time and according to the statement, no residents of workers were seriously harmed.

Defence and Crown agreed the workers were not competent in the task of fixing the leaking gas line, the workers were not provided with equipment suitable to the task and the number of workers exposed to these hazards was not kept to a minimum.

The Crown lawyer declined to comment as the case is still before the courts.

Originally the two companies, Ground Zero Grading Inc. and APM Construction Services along with two individuals, were facing 13 charges under Alberta's workplace safety regulations after a two-year investigation.

Following the incident, it was revealed that at the same time of the explosion the closet Natural Resources Canada seismograph station in Priddis, Alta. registered a 1.1 on the Richter scale.

A $6.4 million loss was also seen on the tax assessments for 13th Street properties the following year.

The general contractor APM Construction, the lead site supervisor Jerry Arbeau, the subcontractor Ground Zero Grading Inc., and Ground Zero heavy equipment operator Andrew Pacaud initially all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them earlier this year.

On April 23, Ground Zero Inc. changed its plea to guilty, resulting in the Crown withdrawing all charges against Andrew Pacaud.

According to those agreed statement of facts, Ground Zero Grading Inc. failed to ensure steps were taken to re-establish the locate marks for the underground gas line after work activities destroyed them earlier that day, contrary to the Occupational Health and Safety Codes.

Ground Zero Grading Inc. was fined $25,000 as a result. 

As a direct result of APM's guilty plea, charges against Jerry Arbeau were also withdrawn.

The case has been adjourned to the end of January for sentencing. 

Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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