aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Hurray for Pipelines

After World War Two, the City of Indianapolis found itself being serviced by five private gas companies. Each supplied its customers with a different kind of burner for its own blend of natural gas. Their infrastructure beneath the city streets must have looked like a barrel of snakes. And despite the competition, prices to the consumer were high, since all of them had to import gas from Oklahoma by truck during the winter months when it was at a premium.

So the city formed its own gas utility and bought out all the independent companies. It was called Citizens Gas and Coke Utility (CGCU). My father went to work for them as a newly-minted professional geologist upon graduating from IU, c. 1950. But there was no geology to do for a while. Instead, he was put to work in their chemistry lab. Slowly, year, by year, they changed out the different gas mixtures, rejiggered the mix of gases, and brought chaos into order. To help buffer the punishing cost of out of state gas in the winter, they had huge coke ovens. They sold the coke to steel mills up north, while using the byproduct gases in their own mixture (this is called coal gasification).

Finally, they were ready to tackle the problem at the source of supply. My Dad was sent down to Greene County to do some geology. His first day on the job, he said, he bought a truck, a tool box, and hired two men. And they began doing something new: exploring for underground storage. He wasn't looking for natural gas (though they found several gas fields). They were looking for underground domes with porous rock under the caps into which they could pump natural gas during the summer when it was cheap and then pump it out in the winter when it was dear, in order to supply the city. Dad's title was Director of Underground Storage. At the same time, CGCU had negotiated to build a pipeline off a main branch from Oklahoma that would enter Indiana and go through the gas storage fields in Greene County and on to Indy. My father was in charge of building the Indiana portion of the pipeline. This allowed the utility to buy natural gas in Oklahoma and ship it faster, cheaper, and with less environmental impact direct to underground storage in natural domes, from which it could supply the capital city's needs.

The pipeline Dad built is still in use, over 60 years later. It has never had a leak or a problem. The gas storage fields he developed are still in use. The gas fields he found are also still producing, last I heard. He even found an oil field for the utility. Zero problems with the environment have ever been reported from any of these projects. At the time he retired, Dad's company was the biggest employer in Greene County. Indianapolis had the best natural gas for the best price. At the city's request, they even produced utility trucks and cars that ran on natural gas, in order to reduce air pollution in the city.

Natural gas is one of the cleanest energy technologies on the planet. And pipelines are a boon to the environment and the economy.

You'll find lots of people who will quibble with that. Some of them will present their academic credentials and tell you, "But, Science!" Well, there are scientists and there are scientists. My Dad was a scientist, and a good one (he actually found what he was looking for, and produced it). But not all scientists actually know the fields they criticize. Dad told me once he had a professor of geology from IU come out with a class of students to visit a well Dad was drilling. While the students wandered around and gawked at things, the professor pointed to something on the well deck and asked Dad, "What's that?" Dad told him it was a blowout preventer, and told him how it worked. Shortly thereafter, the professor told all his students to gather around and proceeded to tell them in professorial tones that this thing here was a blowout preventer and then told them how it worked. Dad looked on in bemusement.

My father was a leader in his field. He was, as regards both the City of Indianapolis and Greene County, a public benefactor. He was always careful about the environment. By the time he retired, he was one of only two people remaining at the Director level of his company who had scientific credentials (all the rest were now lawyers or MBAs). From my youth up, I learned from him (allow me to repeat):

Natural gas is one of the cleanest energy technologies on the planet. And pipelines are a boon to the environment and the economy.


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