PG&E officials try to appease uneasy
Published: March 21, 2014
PRELIMINARY RESULTS of an
investigation into what caused a house at Guadalupe and Third to
explode March 3 show that gas leaked from a PG&E main that
was being worked on in the street and then accumulated inside
the vacant house where it was sparked by the pilot light of a
stove, PG&E Vice President Kevin Knapp told the Carmel City
Council at a special meeting Tuesday.
He and other officials from the utility company will also talk about the accident and their plans for resuming work replacing gas mains in town at an open house set for Wednesday, March 26, from 4 to 7 p.m. in city hall.
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,” Knapp explained.
An independent consultant called Exponent is conducting an investigation for PG&E, and Knapp said it will be complete in another two or three weeks. Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission is undertaking its own examination of the explosion that destroyed the house and damaged a couple of nearby homes but miraculously resulted in no injuries.
PG&E officials also told the council they have fielded 23 inquiries related to the accident, and that repairs to adjacent residences have been completed. The home that was destroyed is fenced off.
At the council meeting, Knapp said PG&E officials plan to resume work on replacing the gas mains March 31. But after council members objected, asking him to delay until the investigation is complete and public officials have had a chance to review it, he agreed to postpone construction further.
The council also sought assurance safety measures and protocols
would be in place to help prevent further accidents and
As soon as workers were aware of the problem with the gas line,
they called for help. But repair and containment crews arrived
in 30 minutes — not soon enough.
“Fifteen minutes after the drilling, the house blew,” Knapp
“I feel very insecure personally right now in my own house,”
said councilwoman Victoria Beach, adding that the company should
develop ways to ensure the equipment and people trained to use
it can get on scene quickly enough.
The other issue is the inaccuracy of maps of gas lines, and
Knapp acknowledged the difficulties of transferring immense
amounts of paper records into digital files, as well as testing
the accuracy of the documents and drawings, some of which go
back more than 100 years. Investigators still have not found
documentation of the plastic insert placed in the steel main at
Guadalupe and Third.
Burnett said he’s confident “a bunch of smart engineers” are
going to create a means of safely drilling into gas lines, no
matter their construction or materials, but “the harder problem
to solve is the combination of the mapping records management
and the protocols for [determining] the actual conditions versus
the conditions you think are there,” he said after the meeting.
“The next problem PG&E encounters is going to be different
than the problem we encountered here,” he said. “I’ve been
encouraging people to have an expansive view of this. It
involves a full range of problems that can occur.”
Burnett and the council also decided Carmel Police Chief Mike
Calhoun should be the point of contact for concerned residents
and PG&E representatives, and that he should review the
safety protocols and results of the investigation before work on
the gas mains resumes.
“They’re going to provide assurances that they’re putting
safety measures in place that will assure the citizens that
they’re doing everything they can to prevent this from happening
again,” Calhoun told The Pine Cone. “The second component is to
review the information they provide me regarding the
investigation, to assure that everything is being looked at and
Welding raises concern
Calhoun has been fielding calls from residents and has been in
touch with PG&E officials, whom he said are working hard to
be responsive. On Wednesday, for example, Calhoun received a
report that PG&E workers were welding in the intersection
near the exploded house, and he was able to determine they were
merely repairing metal plates that had been loosened by a
garbage truck. Calhoun notified utility company officials that a
resident had reported the work, and that he had responded and
determined the complaint of construction was unfounded.
“They are really concerned that this happened and want to
continue to establish a positive working relationship to improve
the trust within the citizens,” he said. “I’m very impressed how
responsive they are. And they came forward from the very
He also encouraged anyone with any questions to call him at the
station — (831) 624-6403 — or to call PG&E
representative Denise Fink at (408) 510-9452.
“She’s compiling all complaints, responding to them personally,
and tracking them for resolution,” he said. “They can call her,
or they can call me.”
They can also air their concerns and obtain information at the
community open house set for 4 to 7 p.m. March 26 at city hall.