Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise...

I often begin the day with a full slate of stuff I've got to do. Some days it's even written on a yellow pad...and there are electronic reminders in my Palm Pilot that help me keep track of recurring deadlines each week and each month.

I've learned over years that despite the best laid plans, there's generally going to be an anomoly that must be dealt with. An unexpected diversion of my energies and attention. A curve ball.

I try to allow for those things, and I'm sure you do, too.

Here's your curve ball for the week: British Petroleum closing down its giant Prudhoe Bay oil field due to a damaged pipeline, and the fears of possibly more, undiscovered corrosion in the line. The ripple effect has touched West Coast supplies, and is raising the possibility of tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

True to form…congressional Democrats want “an investigation” of the situation.

Here’s the quote: “It is appalling that BP let this critical pipeline deteriorate to the point that a major production shutdown was necessary," from Rep. John Dingell, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

He's on the warpath: "The United States Congress has an obligation to hold hearings to determine what broke down here and what laws and regulations need to be improved to ensure problem pipelines like these are found and fixed earlier."

Translation for the politically impaired: "The Congress has an election to win this Fall, and we could sure use some more face time before November."

Perhaps if Congress were less restrictive on the oil exploration and production sector…if oil companies were allowed to spend more money on their pipes and wells and less on legislative clap trap, the infrastructure would not be in such condition. Perhaps.

That's point number one.
Point number two is that this pipeline is 30+ years old.
They don't last for ever.

The reality is a lot of pipelines constructed back in the '70's are due for retro-fit or replacement.
That spells opportunity in several areas:
- Steel: the BP pipeline was built with 30-inch Japanese steel. That stuff isn't sitting on a shelf at the Lowe's in Anchorage. It will have to be ordered and fabricated.
- Service Companies: certainly BP has an impressive array of support for its pipeline operations, but there are going to be some anciallry services required for this job, which must be completed before Winter sets in. Transportation, catering, and even temporary housing.
- Commodities: Sure, this is obvious, and after this week, we'll know what the deal is...with this pipeline. What about the others? It's a volatile area, but as the other operating companies do their due diligance on their pipelines, those around the same age as BP's are likely to be forcecd to perform maintenance, too.

Watch the ripple effect as they do.

Meanwhile, if Rep. Dingellberry wants to investigate BP’s pipeline, I’m pretty sure the folks at British Petroleum would be more than willing to accommodate him with a complimentary inspection tour…lashed to a pipeline pig for an up-close and personal perspective.

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