This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features returning guests Claudia Farrell and Rebekah Taylor of Burns & McDonnell discussing the unique history of the pipeline industry from 1937 to the present.
In the second installment of this conversation, you will learn about the creation of OPEC in the Middle East, the role of eminent domain in the creation of pipelines across the U.S., the types of pipelines installed post-World War II, the introduction of regulations and new types of pipeline transportation systems in the Cold War era, and how this history has shaped today’s modern pipeline industry.
Pipeline History: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Listen to Part 1 of this conversation on the history of the pipeline industry up until 1937.
- Claudia Farrell is a senior project engineer for pipeline design and construction projects at Burns & McDonnell. Connect with Claudia on LinkedIn.
- Rebekah Taylor is a mechanical engineer with Burns & McDonnell in the firm’s Houston office. Connect with Rebekah on LinkedIn.
- Burns & McDonnell is a family of companies bringing together an unmatched team of 7,600 engineers, construction professionals, architects, planners, technologists and scientists to help those who work in critical infrastructure sectors deliver on their imperative responsibilities.
- Listen to recent Pipeliners Podcast episodes sponsored by Burns & McDonnell.
- Read the referenced Burns & McDonnell white paper from Evan Montz on the Gas Mega Rule, “PHMSA’s Mega Rule, Phase 1: Verifying Integrity of Natural Gas Pipelines.”
- Burns & McDonnell is a family of companies bringing together an unmatched team of 7,600 engineers, construction professionals, architects, planners, technologists and scientists to help those who work in critical infrastructure sectors deliver on their imperative responsibilities.
- The Texas City Disaster in April 1947 occurred when a fire onboard a vessel sparked the detonation of approximately 2,200 tons of ammonium nitrate. This led to a chain reaction of fires and explosions on other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities. The explosion led to the deaths of 587 individuals.
- OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) is an intergovernmental organization of 13 nations mainly located in the Middle East. OPEC is headquarted in Vienna, Austria.
- War Powers Act of 1941 (a/k/ First War Powers Act) was an emergency law enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to increase federal power in support of wartime efforts during World War II.
- Federal Power Commission (FPC) was organized in 1930 as an independent commission of the United States government. The commission dissolved in 1977 and was replaced by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
- Federal Power Act of 1935 created the FPC and gave the commission power to regulate the interstate activities of the electric power and natural gas industries. FERC now regulates activity under Parts II and III of the Federal Power Act.
- Natural Gas Act of 1938 was the first U.S. regulation of the natural gas industry. The main focus was on regulating the rates charged by interstate natural gas transmission companies. This gave the FPC control over interstate natural gas sales. After the FPC dissolved, FERC took over and continues to regulate the natural gas industry.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs and nearly 8 percent of the U.S. economy. API’s more than 625 members include large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms.
- API 5L specifies the manufacture of two product levels (PSL1 and PSL2) of seamless and welded steel pipe for the use of a pipeline in the transportation of petroleum and natural gas.
- FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) is the United States federal agency that regulates the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas in interstate commerce and regulates the transportation of oil by pipeline in interstate commerce.
- FERC Order 636 was issued in 1992 to relax service requirements on pipeline firms and gave customers greater purchasing flexibility by separating gas sales from transportation. The order also extended transportation to include storage and allowed end-users with firm transport contracts to sell unused capacity.
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is an independent organization within the federal U.S. government designed to take measures to protect people and the environment.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rulemaking, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- PIPES Act (Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety) was introduced by PHMSA in 2016 to strengthen PHMSA’s safety authority and includes many provisions that helps PHMSA fulfill its mission of protecting people and the environment by advancing the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- The Mega Rule is a set of pipeline safety standards issued by PHMSA in October 2019 that brought 500,000 miles of pipeline under federal jurisdiction to ensure the safe transport of gas product.
- Read the Burns & McDonnell white paper from Evan Montz, “PHMSA’s Mega Rule, Phase 1: Verifying Integrity of Natural Gas Pipelines.”
- The San Bruno Incident in September 2010 refers to a ruptured pipeline that created a crater near San Bruno, California, caused an explosion after natural gas was released and ignited, and resulted in fires causing loss to life and property. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report.]
- RNG (Renewable Natural Gas) is a pipeline-quality gas that is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas. The quality of RNG is similar to fossil natural gas and has a methane concentration of 90% or greater.
Pipeline History: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 153, sponsored by Gas Certification Institute, providing training and standard operating procedures for custody transfer measurement professionals, now offering online interactive and instructor-led training. Find out more about GCI at gascertification.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time. To show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week our winner is Bob Bigley with Atmos Energy. Congratulations, Bob. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week, Claudia Farrell and Rebekah Taylor of Burns & McDonnell, return to continue our pipeline history conversation. Claudia and Rebekah, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Rebekah Taylor: Hi, Russel.
Claudia Farrell: Thanks, Russel.
Russel: We’re going to pick up our conversation about pipeline history. Before we do that, why don’t you guys reintroduce yourself, and then we’ll dive in.
Rebekah: All right. I won’t fight you on this, Claudia. I’ll let you go first.
Claudia: It’s good to be back. I’m Claudia Farrell. I’m a senior pipeline engineer here at Burns & McDonnell.
Rebekah: I’m Rebekah Taylor. I am also a pipeline facilities engineer here at Burns & McDonnell. A fun fact, Claudia and I both came from other companies and joined Burns & McDonnell on the same day, which was June 6 of 2016. We’re kind of twins.
Russel: You’re employee twins, huh?
Rebekah: We’re employee twins.
Russel: Let’s dive in. When we were talking last time on the other episode, we got history all the way to 1937. Now, we want to pick it up from 1937 and go forward. I want to hand it over to you guys and just listen and ask questions as they come up for me.
Rebekah: Absolutely. I do want to have just a small caveat here. We’re focusing on the history inside the U.S. We’re not really covering history outside the U.S. Just recognize that as we’re going through 1932 to 1937 to modern-day pipelines that OPEC was created and that Saudi Arabia discovered that it had the most oil in the world and became a super oil power.
That would be a story for another episode, to cover history outside the U.S.
Claudia: As Rebekah said, we’re starting here in the United States in the 1930s from where we left off with our first episode. Natural gas has become the primary heating fuel for major cities like Houston and Denver. People are starting to move west across the Mississippi River. Populations were growing.
Most of the East Coast cities still relied on coal because pipelines didn’t extend over to them yet. This changed after World War II.
Russel: I also wanted…When we finished the last episode, we talked a little bit about Texas City. We ought to talk about Texas City a little bit, just to connect the dots from the last conversation because I don’t think we really elaborated on that a lot.
I’ll just say this. I think the important thing to know about the Texas City issue was at that time, gas wasn’t odorized.
There also wasn’t a lot of controls on the quality of gas, so when they switched the gas supply from processed gas, so pure methane, to produced gas, which had a lot of liquids in it, they ended up having a major explosion because a leak found its way to an ignition source and nobody knew that they had a leak because there was no smell in the gas.
That was a major, worldwide incident because it destroyed a school. Consequently, a lot of the regulations that we see now are driven out of that initial event in the ’30s.
I’m done with my part. Y’all go ahead.
Rebekah: Great point, Russel. Moving on from 1930 to 1945, I’m going to start with just a little bit of regulations of the time, the first one being the War Powers Act was signed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and put into law on December 18th of 1941, less than two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The act was similar to the Departmental Reorganization Act of 1917. It was signed shortly before the U.S. engaged in a large war and increased the powers of the president’s U.S. executive branch.
What this did, the War Powers Act, it set the framework for the executive branch to make decisions for the safety and defense of a nation at war. It gave the right of eminent domain for military or naval purposes.
Claudia, do you want to explain a little bit about what imminent domain is?
Claudia: Sure. Eminent domain is essentially…It gives the government the right to construct infrastructure projects. This is pipelines, power lines, water lines, highways, roads, railroads, basically anything that’s for the public use. It does take land away from private owners to be able to build these projects.
Rebekah: We’re going to get into the history of what’s going on during World War II. I want you guys to know that Claudia has told me this story about 500 times. This is one of her favorite parts of pipeline history.
Claudia: It’s true. I love these pipelines that I want to talk about. I want to set the stage a little bit and talk about how the United States is responsible for about 60 percent of the world’s oil production here at the start of World War II. The United States was supplying the European Allied Powers with oil and…
Russel: I think a good point to make here, too, is that just when you think about the history is that World War II was really the first fully mechanized war.
Claudia: That’s a very good point. There was a huge demand.
Russel: Oil supply, fuel supply was critical to the war effort. If you study the history of World War II, a lot of what Germany was doing, the whole reason that Germany went into North Africa, was to get control of fuel supplies.
Claudia: Right. As most of the refining and production was happening in Texas, then the United States was having to move that oil from Texas to the East Coast to be able to move it across the Atlantic. What was happening was the U-boats were coming closer and closer to the United States shoreline and starting to torpedo those tankers just moving across the coast.
The United States made the decision to build some pipelines from Texas to New Jersey to be able to have a safe way to transport this very valuable resource.
Russel: The other thing that a lot of people don’t know about this is one of the problems with the Gulf Coast during the war is the Gulf Coast is quite shallow. They had to dredge channels that would go out into the open Gulf. They were basically sitting ducks because all the U-boats had to do was sit offshore where the channels opened up and just pick them off as they got into the channel.
They would sink vessels in these dredged channels and then they’d have to clear the vessels before they could move product. It was a huge problem.
Claudia: Right, kind of an insurmountable issue.
The United States invoked the War Powers Act and constructed two pipelines. One was 24-inch diameter. It was called the Big Inch. Then, they constructed a parallel 20-inch pipeline called the Little Big Inch. These were some of the largest pipelines constructed in the United States in the early 1940s.
This was the first time that they’d been able to do this, mostly because of the improvements in how we can manufacture steel pipe, and also the production quality was much higher so these could be pressure containing vessels where they could put a pressurized oil product in these pipelines and ship it 1,200 miles from Texas to New Jersey.
The Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, was the one who championed this pipeline project because he was really focused on this more secure interior route to move products from Texas up to the East Coast.
These pipelines were built 1,200 miles each. Each was built in about a year. They crossed 7,500 different land parcels and eminent domain was used for the construction 300 times.
Russel: It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. When you talk about World War II, the big projects that get all the press are all the different aircraft construction projects and, of course, the Manhattan Project with the nuclear bomb, but this was a very major project. It was also cutting edge technology when it was done.
Claudia: It was impressive. I think it’s so interesting what comes out of wars. The improvements in technology and what human innovation is able to do when given the funds and a short timetable to get stuff done.
These pipelines are amazing. They were built just by pure determination. After the war ended, Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation bought them, converted them to gas pipelines, and essentially they’re still in use today, owned by Enbridge.
Rebekah: Then, when we move into the 1950s and 1960s, the war’s end also brought the end of U.S. gas rationing. Now that people are allowed to use more gas, the citizens, and plus the boom of the auto industry and the number of cars in the U.S. jumping from 26 million to 40 million in five years after war, our oil and gas consumption skyrockets.
The transportation’s sector share of oil consumptions rose from 50 percent to more than 70 percent. Not only did the innovation increase our technology of pipelines after World War II, now our own citizens are using much more oil.
Claudia: Right, there’s a huge boom. This leads to increased regulation.
We touched on some of the early regulation at the turn of the 20th century, starting back in 1913 and then into 1920 where the Federal Power Commission was created, which started to regulate prices of public utilities.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the Federal Power Commission has gained a lot of regulatory power within the United States. There were a couple of Supreme Court cases that granted the FPC even more jurisdiction over facilities producing natural gas. This expanded the reach of the FPC to commerce that was between states.
Into the ’60s, some additional Supreme Court cases expanded jurisdiction over intrastate sales, so not even where the utility product is crossing state lines. Now, it’s even between states or within the same state. The FPC has control over those prices.
All of this served to expand the reach of the FPC. By the end of the 1960s, the government had a lot of control over how much a utility could charge for oil or gas and then the power that they produced with those commodities.
Russel: That actually tees up a big problem later in the ’70s because the way that worked is the pipelines didn’t…They actually sold the product. Everything they sold was sold at prices that were determined by the federal government. They bought at whatever price they could buy at and their sales price was controlled. Kind of interesting.
Claudia: Right, absolutely.
Then in the 1970s, as those regulations are incorporating…At the same time, in the 1970s, we’re following the discovery of the Alaska Prudhoe Bay oil field, which was discovered in 1968. Engineers and designers were challenged to build an 800-mile pipeline across a frozen tundra. It was completed in 1977, called the Trans Alaska Pipeline.
Russel: I actually have to add my two cents in on this if you don’t mind.
Russel: Kind of an interesting aside. I took a computer programming class in structural design when I was in college in the spring of 1976. The professor of that class, in his office he had the…If you’re old enough to remember the boxes full of IBM punchcards, he had those boxes stacked two deep around three sides of his office.
It was all of the data that was used to design the Alaskan pipeline.
Rebekah: That’s amazing. You know, we actually have a coworker who designed pipelines in Alaska. We ask him questions about that all the time. It is fascinating.
Russel: It is. The technology is just…It’s amazing. There was a lot of conversation about the pipeline and what it would do to the caribou and the caribou migration, all that kind of stuff. You know what it’s done?
Rebekah: Tell me.
Russel: Because the product has to be warm enough to flow, the pipeline actually puts off some heat, which is why it’s above ground and why they do all the things to protect the permafrost. It’s also where the caribou hang out in the coldest part of the winter. It’s actually caused the herds to grow because they have a warm place to hang out in the winter.
Claudia: That’s amazing.
Rebekah: Positive environmental impacts from pipelines.
Russel: I don’t know if you can get that past others outside our business, but it is a true fact. It’s an interesting side note.
Rebekah: No, that is very interesting.
Russel, Claudia and I were talking. Is there a way that people can submit pipeline pictures to you? We always love to see construction pipeline photos.
Russel: Oh, yeah.
Rebekah: If you’re listening, and you’re in pipeline construction, and you have some awesome pipeline construction photos, is there a way that you can post those on your website?
Russel: Yeah, just if somebody will send me a note, just go to the Pipeliners Podcast Contact Us page and send me a note. I will get with you and we’ll make arrangements for you to transfer stuff. We have a Resources section on the website. We can add that. We can add a photo library of construction photos to the website. It would be really cool.
Rebekah: I’d love to see.
Claudia: I want you to know, we love looking at construction photos.
Russel: You know, you’re my kind of geek. That’s why we’re talking here.
Claudia: Bringing us back, in 1970, in response to a bunch of confusing and ineffective environmental protection laws that were enacted by states, President Richard Nixon created the EPA to fix national guidelines and start to monitor and enforce them.
Rebekah: This was the start of a codified federal process for how the environment should be treated. States had their own rules, but they were often conflicting. If you were trying to build an interstate project and meet all of these different state and local guidelines and requirements, it was convoluted and terrible.
By having a federal program for this, this started to make projects a little bit easier to get permitted and built.
Also during the ’70s, as another way to get all the federal notes in one place, Congress reorganized the Federal Power Commission into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, which then was able to start deregulating some of the policies that FPC had put into place on costs. Companies were able to start setting their own prices for sales.
Russel: I want to talk to this a little bit because I think this is really interesting. This is actually how I got my start in the pipeline and oil and gas business, was related to this timeframe.
I graduated university in 1980. When I was in high school, which would have been ’72 to ’76, we had the gas crisis. You couldn’t get gas for your car. There just wasn’t any.
At the same time, we had a natural gas crisis in the Northeast where people couldn’t get gas to heat their homes. Both of these were contributed to in a fairly significant way by the way that FERC was controlling prices in the ’70s.
They wrote a bunch of things. On the natural gas side, they wrote a rule called FERC Order 636, which converted all of the natural gas pipelines from companies that bought and sold natural gas to companies that just transported the gas and didn’t own the gas. They became what was called common carriers. They started making their money on transmission.
This did a lot of interesting things from a technology standpoint because it made measurement and the timeliness of measurement much more critical, because if I was shipping gas I needed to know how much gas that I put in and how much gas I had taken out of the pipeline because all the fees were based on that.
They called 636 a deregulation order. I think that’s a misnomer. It was actually a reregulation order. It was restructuring the way the market worked. There were similar things going on at the same time related to the liquid side. I’m much less knowledgeable about that.
I find it fascinating that they built a market based on a mechanism that made a lot of sense in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s and then it broke down in the ’70s. They came up with a whole new way to work the market. We’re still doing that now.
Rebekah: The history of FERC and what they’ve accomplished and changed, what they deregulated and reregulated with costs and then also being able to incorporate some of the EPA’s guidelines into how that applies to pipelines. It’s a very interesting, interwoven web of federal agencies.
Russel: It’s actually created a very effective market. One of the reasons we’ve had the shale boom in the United States is because of the way that the transmission systems are regulated. It creates the ability for the smaller operators to be able to get into business and do something because the carriers, they’re required to carry the gas.
I don’t know that it was the intent, but it actually took and broke down some strongholds that some of these big pipeline operators had because they controlled the infrastructure.
Rebekah: Now, with the conclusion of the FERC regulations that Claudia was reviewing, it actually brings us into modern-day pipelines.
Guys, we’re finally here. We’re finally to today. It only took two podcasts, but we’re here.
Modern-day pipelines are safer. It’s due to improvements in materials, in manufacturing, installation, corrosion, protection, testing, inspection, and maintenance. In 1919, API was formed. They created standards for the pipeline industry.
In 1928, they established API 5L, which standardizes manufacturing of seamless and welded steel pipe for the pipeline industry. When the API 5L specification was released, a minimum level fracture toughness became mandatory. It established a minimum fracture level promoting safety against cracks and material defects.
By the 2000s, pipeline performance tracking systems were put in place. Tracking pipelines allows observation of pipeline integrity and performance over time so safety incidents can be recorded and compared to the decade in which the incident occurred. Tracking incidents and comparing then to pipe integrity helps to develop new safety procedures.
Claudia: Right, and that’s a big push of the API. There’s a lot of companies now that are following in these same footsteps and looking for, “Hey, do you have pipes that are coming out of the ground? Let’s test the ones that were installed in the ’70s and have been in service for 40 years. Let’s see how they’re holding up.” Trying to find issues before they become a problem so that you’re ahead of the game.
Rebekah: I think you told me before, Claudia, weren’t you seeing that with companies who were abandoning pipelines, that they were doing this kind of analysis on these older pipelines?
Claudia: Right. Just from my experience, I know that PG&E has done that, especially after 2010 where they wanted to get a better idea of what they have in the ground. They’ve done a lot of this after something’s been decommissioned, doing some testing on the old pipes instead of just immediately trashing it so they can learn about their system.
I think that’s a great thing that operators are starting to do.
One of the things that has also come up here in “modern times of pipelines” was PHMSA was established. As an engineer who was in school a little bit after you, Russel, I thought PHMSA had been around forever but it was formed in 2004.
Claudia: I can’t even believe it.
Russel: It had a agency that was before PHMSA. PHMSA kind of got constituted coming out of the Bellingham incident. Boy, you guys are putting me on the spot a little bit. I don’t remember what the predecessor agency was called. Basically, Congress took that old agency and changed its charter and formed PHMSA in 2004 to get more proactive about pipeline safety.
Claudia: Right. We’ve seen this time and time again in history, that this is something that Congress will do to tailor an agency to be more effective for the current times.
PHMSA is part of the Department of Transportation. That’s their parent agency. Part of their charter is to develop and enforce regulations for the pipeline transportation industry.
In 2016, which is right around the time that Burns & McDonnell hired Rebekah and I, the PIPES Act, which was an acronym for Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act, was a rulemaking that said the Secretary of Transportation shall publish and update on a publicly available website of the Department of Transportation regarding the status of a final rule for each outstanding regulation.
This established the framework to be able to have an agency propose a rulechanging, allow for the public to weigh in on that proposed change, and then ultimately adopt what they’re proposing. This is most recently seen in the Mega Rule, which came out of the 2010 San Bruno incident in California.
PHMSA had a proposed rulemaking. They had this period for people to weigh in. They talked about it. Finally, in 2019, they said, “All right, we have the Mega Rule. It’s being released.”
There’s a lot to cover about the Mega Rule. Russel, you’ve had folks on to talk about the Mega Rule.
Russel: I’ve done multiple podcasts on the Mega Rule. I think the big thing about the Mega Rule is there’s a lot of rules being changed about recordkeeping. There’s a lot of rules being changed about what must be inspectable using an ILI tool. If you can’t inspect it, what you have to do to verify pressure.
Then, there’s a whole bunch of stuff about gathering and a whole lot of pipelines that are currently unregulated that are going to become regulated. It’s a little unclear right now exactly where that line’s going to be, but probably much of this stuff will be brought to conclusion pretty quickly.
It would have happened even more quickly if it hadn’t been for COVID.
Claudia: That is true.
I know that there’s a lot about the Mega Rule out there, but we did want to plug one of our co-workers. Evan Montz wrote a really great white paper about the Mega Rule, which you can find on the Burns & McDonnell website. Check it out.
Russel: You should give us a copy of that. We’ll put that in the show notes and link it up.
Russel: Absolutely. Make it easy to find.
Claudia: I’m also starting to see some of the effects of the Mega Rule with my clients right now, especially with the requirements from suppliers and material testing. What we’re requiring for vendors to provide. I am already seeing this, as well.
It’s very interesting to be a part of change.
Russel: Yeah, it is. It always is. One of the things they talk a lot about when they’re going through the gas pipeline advisory committee, which is a group that is formed by PHMSA to advise PHMSA on rulemaking. They always talk about unintended consequences.
We never know what those are going to be until we’ve had that rule in place 5 or 10 years.
Claudia: How are we to know that all the elk would be close to the Alaskan pipeline?
Claudia: I’m sorry, caribou.
Russel: It’s not the same animal.
Claudia: That is very true.
Russel: You don’t hunt. You would know these things.
Claudia: Sorry, but you get my point.
Russel: I do, I do.
Claudia: Now, we get to move on to a possible future for pipelines. This is one of my favorite topics. I’ve written a few competitive papers on this. I’ve been on a few projects, as well, when it comes to green energy and how pipelines are incorporated in that.
It’s very interesting. It’s something I am constantly working on. I’m very, very interested in it and constantly doing a lot of research and work with pipelines for green energy. Green energy is energy that comes from renewable sources.
The two main ones that I wanted to discuss, and they’re ones that I work on, is renewable natural gas, which is RNG, and power to gas. Just to very, very briefly touch into what those things are.
Power to gas is converting electricity into natural gas. It’s very fascinating. It’s complicated and wonderful. It shows how if we have too much electricity being produced that instead of it being wasted or having to be put on a battery, etc., etc., you could convert it into methane and inject it into a pipeline.
The second one is renewable natural gas. Biogas comes from livestock operations and other natural waste operations.
Russel: What you’re telling me is there’s a way to gather cow flatulence?
Claudia: Yes, and wastewater, and your trash. I do see, especially Waste Management is making a whole bunch of RNG facilities. They are so wonderful and interesting because they already have all the trash. It’s already decomposing and that methane’s already being released into the atmosphere.
It is so amazing to watch a company grab onto a resource they’re already producing and instead of letting it pollute the environment, they’re making money off of it.
Russel: Again, another interesting aside. One of the projects I got involved with was a natural gas capture from landfills with one of the large landfill operators. The funny part of that story is they started talking about the compressors they had at these facilities.
They were talking about the high-pressure side and the low-pressure side. I asked what the high-pressure side was. They said, “Oh, it’s about 15 pounds.” I’m like, “What?”
Russel: I guess when you’re sucking on the straw trying to get the natural gas, it’s different than when you’re moving the natural gas down a transmission pipeline.
Claudia: It’s so true. The gas that comes from those landfills and cow pastures, it’s cleaned and filtered and injected into the pipeline. Again, it’s very interesting. I love this new technology. I cannot get enough of it.
I work with my co-worker David Slavin, who was also on a podcast with you, Russel. We both can’t get enough of it. We take every opportunity to work on renewable natural gas projects and do more research on it. It’s amazing.
Russel: There’s a lot to be said about green energy and renewable energies and various approaches to become more effective. It’s interesting when you think about what the public mindset is about energy in general and what that might mean if we were to put ourselves 20 years into the future and look backward and say, “What is this going to look like?”
I don’t think pipelines are going to go away, but I do think that there’s a lot that’s going to happen that will change the way we use things. I don’t see us flying jet planes on electricity, for example, at least not across the Atlantic. I wouldn’t ride on one.
Claudia: It is very wonderful to see people think of pipelines being this older technology and that it’s not innovative. It is. Really, pipelines can be modernized. They can still be in that green energy sector.
Don’t count us out yet. We’re not an old technology. We’re constantly improving, modernizing, developing. This is only one area. I’m sure you could say a lot about the instrumentation modernization.
Russel: The instrumentation and what’s going to be done with drones and robotics and all that kind of stuff. There’s a lot that’s going to happen. What’s the most interesting thing to me is the potential repurposing of pipelines.
You already talked about in the ’30s, we built these pipelines to move fuel from the Gulf Coast where all the refining was up to the Philadelphia area, the East Coast, where all the ships were departing to cross the Atlantic. Then all that got converted to natural gas.
We’re going to see hydrogen become a very interesting fuel. That’s going to be moved by pipeline. That’ll be very interesting because it has very different risks and behaviors. It’s a fascinating thing. This industry is going to continue to evolve.
One of things I think is very interesting about pipelines too is most people don’t even realize they’re there. They have no idea how much infrastructure they’re relying on, on a daily basis, that they never see…
Claudia: It’s so true.
Russel: …and operates in a very safe and reliable way a very high percentage of the time.
Claudia: I would love to know how many pipelines I drive or walk over in one day just to get to work and back.
Russel: I’ve got family that lives in Portland, Oregon. I was up there visiting. My cousin up there is a fisherman. He’s just absolutely rabid about fishing. Great guy. They were asking me, “What do you do?” I said, “Well, I work in pipeline safety and technology and blah blah.” I said, “Do y’all have any pipelines up here?” They go, “Oh, no, no. We don’t have any pipelines up here.”
Then I did a big drive. They got pipelines all over the place up there. They got all this infrastructure along the Columbia River. They’ve got a major port. There’s terminals that are not very far from downtown Portland. There’s pipelines around all of that. People just don’t realize they’re there.
Claudia: It’s true.
Russel: It’s fascinating, right?
Claudia: Typically, people like it that way. [laughs]
Russel: That’s the whole point, right?
Russel: That’s why we put them underground. That’s one of the reasons they’re safe.
Claudia: You put facilities, also berms and shrubbery, and try to hide it a little bit, make them aesthetically pleasing.
Russel: Guys, listen. I really appreciate y’all doing all the research to pull all this together. I know you spent a lot of time creating links to resources and sources for all this. We’ll get all that up in the show notes so that if people want to go read some of the source documents that you guys found, they’ll be able to find all that.
This has really been awesome. I’m a geek. I love this stuff. I think it’s so very awesome.
Really, we covered a lot. I don’t think a lot of people, maybe even that work in the business, just realize the history that we have in our business.
Claudia: It’s so true.
Rebekah: This has been really fun.
Claudia: It has. Thank you so much for having us, Russel. This has been such a blast.
Russel: We need to do that other history podcast we talked about.
Rebekah: We’ll get back to you on that one.
Russel: If you reach out to me on the Contact Us page at Pipeliners Podcast, I’ll tell you what the idea was to see if you find it as funny as we did. [laughs]
All right. Great. Well thanks, guys. Thanks for being a guest.
Claudia: Thanks so much, Russel.
Rebekah: Thanks, Russel.
Russel: Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Claudia and Rebekah.
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Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the contact us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords