Click here to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on Newstalk 600 KTBB, Friday, June 13, 2008.

I want to propose an ambitious capital project and I want your thoughts on the feasibility.

In order to meet a strategic national need, we need to construct a pipeline nearly 1,500 miles from Texas to New York. We’re going to cross 95 counties and traverse all or part of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

We’re going to bury most of it in a three foot-wide, four foot-deep trench. We’ll be moving more than 3.1 million cubic yards of earth before we’re done. To complete this project, we’ll cross swamps and forests, go over or under 30 rivers and more than 200 creeks and lakes. We’ll be passing our pipeline under streets, railroad rights-of-way and a few private backyards.

We’re going to need more than 7,500 right-of-way grants or tenants’ consents.

Oh, and there’s just one more thing. We need to have this project completed in 54 weeks. Uh, huh. A year and two weeks. What do you think?

Well, Paul, I’m not so sure.

Why not?

Why not?! There are a lot of reasons but your time line is the biggest problem. You’ve got to be kidding with that 54 weeks. You’ll be darned lucky to have the environmental impact statements finished in less than five years. And then you’ll have to get the approvals. You’re talking some serious stuff here. Crossing forests and natural wetlands for example. You’re bound to be making an impact on quite a bit of natural habitat, some of which is bound to involve protected or endangered species.

And assuming you get the necessary approvals, which is going to take a long time assuming you get it done at all, don’t think you’re going to just start digging. You’d better budget some serious money and some serious time for the legal challenges. You can count on being sued repeatedly by any number of environmental groups. They’ll get restraining orders and injunctions to stop you or slow you down. You can count on it.


Yeah, really. I think you should forget about this one.

Well, you’re probably right.

Oh wait. Except for the fact that all of this has already happened. In 1942, in response to the need for massive quantities of oil necessary to prosecute World War II, they built this very pipeline. It starts in Longview and it goes all the way to Linden, New Jersey. And it was completed, start to finish, in 376 days. It’s called the Big Inch, in honor of the fact that it employed what was then revolutionary 24-inch diameter steel pipe.

Historical marker at MLK Blvd. & Pittman in Longview

Want to know the best part? It’s still in operation. It is, at this very moment, transporting natural gas from Longview to New York via that terminal in Linden, New Jersey.

The Big Inch pipeline is still in use, transporting natural gas now instead of oil.

I’m telling you this because oil has gone up about ten bucks a barrel since we spoke last Friday. And yet, members of Congress, and both presidential candidates, still refuse on largely environmental grounds to open up known fields of oil and gas to drilling and production.

We Baby Boomers are the children of people who got things done. And we have been living off of those accomplishments ever since (without really having to put ourselves out much). And to the extent that our parents damaged the earth while accomplishing what they did, they and we all learned from those mistakes and we take better care of the earth now. Show me any business — from the largest multi-national to your corner dry cleaner — that is wantonly damaging the environment today and getting away with it.

Up until now, had you ever heard of the Big Inch pipeline? Ever heard of any harm it has done to the environment? Any chance it could get built today in just over a year?

With the Big Inch in mind, let’s acknowledge that refusing to drill for oil that we know is there out of fear of damaging the environment is ludicrous.

But, Paul, we need to move past oil anyway.

Oh yeah, well that will take a couple of decades if we’re really lucky. And it won’t be the result of some massive government initiative such as the Manhattan Project.  The switch from oil to some other energy source will be market-driven. Energy is fungible. Atom bombs are not.

And guess what. Any alternate energy you find or develop will come from the earth. There is no other source. If you want energy, you will have to dig or drill or move or scratch or do something to the earth in order to get it.

All over East Texas there are oil wells that have been plugged and abandoned. Finding them today without specific detailed records would be next to impossible. The earth, by now, has fully reclaimed those old well sites.

And that’s because the earth is resilient and has what it takes to take care of itself.

The question is, with our way of life threatened by global oil market tyranny, do we have what it takes to care of ourselves?

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