Saturday, August 23, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch part 13

Hey kids! We went one whole day without finding any careless errors in the Herald, but today we found a doozy.

There are three problems with this article from page B1 of Saturday's paper. 

Let's start with the headline. It's just plain wrong. The gas explosion in Carmel last March was not a pipeline explosion. Gas leaked into a house and the house exploded, not the pipe.


Second, the article says "An electric crew was working nearby on a natural gas pipeline." (See the red underline above.) Wrong again. I'm pretty sure PG&E doesn't assign electric crews to work on gas lines or gas crews to work on electric lines. According to reports written at the time, it was a "welding crew." It's a sad state of affairs when the reporter doesn't know his subject well enough to know the difference between electricity and gas. That goes double for his AWOL out-of-town editor.

The third issue I have with this article may put me on slightly less stable ground. Very slightly. Above, I circled a questionable sentence in blue, which says the cause of the explosion has not been determined nor is it known whether there is any connection between the work crew's activities and the house explosion.

Technically that may be correct. I don't think any firm conclusions about the cause have yet been documented. But the wording here implies that the cause is still a complete mystery, which it isn't.

Had the writer (or a local editor with some institutional memory - which we no longer have) bothered to check the Herald's own archives they would have found this article from May 5th which said....

The crew was working on a steel gas pipe, but punctured a plastic pipe inside the steel pipe. The plastic pipe inside the other pipe wasn't "reflected on the map(s)," the report says.

Unnoticed, the leaking gas likely traveled down the pipe, into the soil and got into the home through its sewer lines. The pressurized gas got into the home living space, and about 40 to 60 minutes after the plastic pipe was first punctured, there was "a quick, loud bang."

A pilot light on a stove in the home likely touched off the explosion.
The March 21st Carmel Pine Cone reported much the same thing:
The leak that led to the explosion occurred when a PG&E worker tapped into a gas main he thought was just steel, but it actually contained a plastic insert. As he worked on the line, gas leaked between the steel shell and the plastic lining and followed the main into the home.

“The area of space between the steel and the plastic allows gas to go anywhere,” [PG&E Vice President Kevin] Knapp explained.
Like evolution, this may still be "just a theory" but the evidence points strongly to a direct connection between the PG&E crew's activities and the explosion. To suggest otherwise without providing the known facts is sloppy reporting.



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