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While Engineers Hunt for Clues, NBC Determines Cause of San Bruno Tragedy


Trolling around the internet tonight, I came across this headline on MSNBC.com: "Blast puts focus on aging U.S. infrastructure"

This was the first I'd seen a headline announcing a cause for the San Bruno gas line explosion last night, let alone one pointing the finger at "aging infrastructure."   With a little digging, I found that investigators were just arriving at the charred scene of the explosion -- beginning their investigation, not announcing findings. The only ones with their "focus on infrastructure" seemed to NBC News.

My interest piqued: where did NBC News get its information?

NBC reporter Kristen Welker reported from the scene and asked, "How could a disaster of this scale happen?"  According to Welker, investigators "are hoping to gain access to a gas pipe that is forty to fifty years old."

Despite Pacific Gas & Electric's Chris John's insistence that PG&E was "working every day to make sure that we're maintaining the integrity of that system," Welker goes on -- with no evidence, mind you -- to suggest the San Bruno fire was the result of old defunct pipes, a symptom of a much larger problem facing the country: aging infrastructure.

After reporting that the San Bruno gas line explosion "wouldn't be the first time aging systems have played a role in tragic accidents" and comparing the subsequent fire to known infrastructure incidents -- including the 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse -- Welker presents the bulk of her report from the scene as data and statistics on America's aging infrastructure, complete with an engineer's testimony that America's roads do indeed suck.

After using her entire report from the scene to imply causation and correlation between aging infrastructure and the San Bruno accident, Welker backed off, concluding her report by saying, "it could be a long time before [investigators] determine the exact cause of this latest disaster."

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Aging infrastructure may very well have played a role in the tragic explosion and fire in California, but why don't we wait for actual evidence before throwing out hypotheses?  In the grand scheme of things, unless NBC reporter Kristen Welker moonlights as an engineer, she's about as qualified to talk about our infrastructure's structural integrity as Al Gore is qualified to talk about climate.

So why all the talk about an "aging infrastructure" playing a role when there's been no report of evidence that suggests it did?  It couldn't possibly have anything to do with this, could it?

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