Back To Reality

In this issue, Managing Editor Rita Tubb provides a round-up of oil, gas and product pipeline construction currently under way or projected around the world. It’s a reduced number, as expected, compared to recent years. However, it is a very realistic number as the “pipe-in-the-sky” projects that are inevitably thrown about during boom times have been dropped. The remaining projects are considered solid with a strong chance of coming to fruition. The numbers lead us to anticipate a reasonably healthy pipeline market going forward.

That will especially be true once we finally overcome economic doldrums and the world starts building again. This bodes well for the gas distribution market as well.

Unfortunately, the BP drilling platform disaster and extended timeframe for capping the well this past summer gave justification for extreme action from an administration and Congress already considering anything remotely related to petro carbons as toxic. And, with the San Bruno explosion in California, our Washington Editor Stephen Barlas reports that Congress is going to ponder a flurry of new integrity management proposals. Stay tuned for continued updates as the oil and gas pipeline industry braces for impact.

Understanding nature

When the scope of the oil leak from the busted well in the Gulf of Mexico was fully realized, I saw national news reports comparing the environmental impacts to those in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez ran aground at Prince William Sound. Purported “experts” and “informed” reporters readily pointed out how the Exxon Valdez virtually destroyed a pristine environment in Alaska and, since so much more oil was being leaked into the Gulf, the environmental impacts would be many times greater.

I hadn’t seen such irresponsible journalism since the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing when Connie Chung of CBS made the observation that the OKC Fire Department and Emergency Response Team was woefully ill-prepared and inadequate to deal with that disaster. The truth was, due to the area’s constant threat of tornadic activity, the OKC teams were widely considered among the nation’s best equipped and trained in emergency disaster response and, in fact, were widely praised for their quick efforts to react and contain the situation, resulting in the preservation of many lives.

As for the Gulf oil and Exxon Valdez disasters, granted both involved huge oil spills into ocean environments. But there the correlation stopped. Scientists from the Gulf Coast region tried to explain the differences and their story was picked up along the coast, but most of the major networks failed to pay any attention. It was more sensational to talk about the almost guaranteed horrific destruction of the Gulf Coast.

What local experts and scientists were trying to explain was that the ocean environments and ecosystems were radically different. Prince William Sound is in the northern portion of the Gulf of Alaska – very cold waters (there are icebergs floating around even in the summer for goodness sake!). The Gulf of Mexico is dramatically warmer with summer temperatures in the upper 80s F. The Valdez leak was surface/near shore; the Gulf of Mexico leak came from 5,000 feet down and was many miles from the coast. By the time the oil reached the surface, it had already been pulled apart and then hit warm wave action that immediately added to the breakdown of the oil.

Further, most of the national “experts” quoted failed to realize that oil is a natural occurring element in the Gulf of Mexico ecostructure. The Gulf has had oil under its seabed for hundreds of thousands of years – long before any humans showed up. Oil seeping up from the seabed has been occurring from many millennia. Microbes have developed in the Gulf that feast on oil and in turn are feasted on by other sea creatures, etc. and becomes part of the natural occurring Gulf of Mexico food chain. That’s why, within just a couple of months after the oil spill was permanently capped, the oil had all but disappeared and fisheries began to open back up.

Now, of course, the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf is many times greater than normal and there could still be long-term ecological impacts such as a major red time next summer from microbes having the feast of their lives. Most of the disaster predications for this summer were widely – and unnecessarily – exaggerated. But as our former vice president-turned-author/Hollywood mogul put it, this is an “inconvenient truth.”

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