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Industry News

Ten Burn to Death in New Mexico Pipeline Explosion

LCG, Aug. 21, 2000--A natural gas pipeline that exploded near dawn on Saturday near the Pecos River, just south of Carlsbad, N.M., killed ten people, including five children, who were camped along the river on a two-family fishing expedition. Two who survived the inferno were still hospitalized yesterday evening.

El Paso Natural Gas Co., owner of the pipeline, said the 30-inch conduit had been inspected as recently as last August and could not explain the rupture in the 50-year-old pipeline. Company spokesman Mel Scott said "Pipeline doesn't have a life span as long as it's well maintained."

Officials were unable to say how the gas escaping from the pressurized pipeline was ignited, but speculated that the families may have had a campfire going. They were camped on public land near Carlsbad Cavern National Park. The charred remains of the campsite contained pickup trucks, sleeping bags, tents and fishing rods, police said.

Among those burned to death were five children under the age of six. The two survivors, a man and his daughter-in-law, were in critical condition at a Lubbock, Texas, hospital.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said the blast left a crater 90 feet long, 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep. After visiting the scene, NTSB board member John Hammerschmidt said it would take several weeks for investigators to learn what might have caused the blast.

El Paso Energy Corp. chief executive William Wise said the company would cooperated with the NTSB "to investigate diligently all matters surrounding this accident and to establish its cause as quickly as possible."

He called the explosion "a tragic accident" and said his company was mostly concerned with the families involved. Wise also expressed gratitude to local emergency response people and to "to Wal-Mart and other local businesses who provided food and much needed supplies to help the emergency response teams throughout the day."

New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson visited the site yesterday and said at a news conference "This is a tragedy that words can't describe. God forbid that this should ever happen again." He promised a state investigation of the incident.

The explosion has interrupted for an indeterminate time the flow of natural gas from Texas to California which has suffered a summer-long electricity shortage and where almost all thermal power plants are fueled by gas. Scott said El Paso was working with other companies in an attempt to meet Californias gas requirements.

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