Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The untold story: Katrina, Rita, and oil

Close to 50% of U.S. refinery capacity is concentrated on the Gulf Coast of the United States, due to economic reasons -- it's simply cheaper to locate a refinery closer to other refineries, where it can tap into the same oil pipelines and feed into the same gas pipelines. Despite calls for refineries to be "moved to safer locations", that isn't happening.

The problem is that if you have built multi-billion-dollar oil refineries, pipelines, and dock facilities, those things are almost impossible to move. Even a small oil refinery nowdays is so complicated that there is no one single person who knows everything about it. I don't know if you've ever worked in an oil refinery (I have), but it is just this incredible maze of pipes and wires and conduits and towers, many of which were put in by subcontractors who are no longer around, all of which is maintained by a legion of subcontractors who know only their one little piece of the puzzle (like the little guy who maintains the Ph-balancing computer for the cooling tower, making sure all its little chemical pumps and testing paraphenalia meet industry standards -- multiply times a thousand, and you start to get the picture). You can't just pick up an oil refinery and move it. All you can do is build a new oil refinery from scratch in some other place.

But discarding billions of dollars of investment is NOT going to happen unless nature forces you to do so by permenantly submerging the thing. And the economic repercussions of losing these multi-billion dollar investments will be enormous.

The end result is that even if it takes 50 billion dollars to stop the wetlands loss (and even do some rebuilding) in certain critical areas by diverting the Mississippi River's silt flow to those areas, that is far, far less expensive than abandoning probably a trillion dollars worth of infrastructure that has taken almost a hundred years to build. But, like the latter-day Romans, our government is no longer interested in infrastructure. When the Emperor Justinian's troops looted Rome to "save" it from the "evil" Ostrogoths, they took away with them the brass spikes that held the marble slabs that lined the banks of Rome's streams when they retreated back to Byzantium. As a result, in the next big storm those slabs slid into the streams, causing major flooding and mudslides and contributing to the further decline of Rome from a once-great metropolis of a million people to what was, by 800AD, an armed war camp of maybe 40,000 people sheltering in the ruins. That's the level we're at right now -- where "our" government is literally stealing the brass spikes that keep our infrastructure from sliding into ruin.

So like the latter day Romans, who in only a few generations went from living in the greatest city on the Earth to a few ragged bands living in the ruins of that city, there is plenty of suffering coming up. One thing underreported right now is that virtually 100% of that infrastructure was shut down by Rita and Katrina. Some small part of it -- in the Houston area -- is coming back online. But capacity representing 26% of U.S. refining capacity was shut down as of Monday, and 18 refineries may take weeks to bring back online. You folks Back East are about to be in for a world of hurt... and as for me, heading back to my iceberg in the South Pacific sounds like a very, very good idea...

- Badtux the Oily Penguin

Posted by: BadTux / 9/28/2005 12:48:00 AM  


You comparison of Republic empires is apt: Like the Romans, we will fall due to our own hubris, to the sounds of the rest of the world cheering. Remember "Pax Romana?"

We're experiencing "Pax Americanus."
# posted by Tannish : 28/9/05 3:29 PM  

Sure, our government is corrupt, but what are you going to do, throw your vote away on a loser?
# posted by NewsBlog 5000 : 29/9/05 4:42 AM  

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