This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features first-time guests Claudia Farrell and Rebekah Taylor of Burns & McDonnell discussing the unique history of the pipeline industry through 1937.
In this episode, you will learn about how pipelines first came into play, who the major players were early in pipeline history, the introduction of new technology and regulations that affected pipeline expansion, lessons learned from early incidents, and more topics.
Pipeline History to 1937: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- 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 lead facilities engineer for pipeline design and construction projects at Burns & McDonnell. 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.
- The History of the Standard Oil Company by Ida Tarbell was published in 1904 that focused on Standard Oil Company and John D. Rockefeller. The book contributed to industry regulations and the break-up of Standard Oil Company.
- The Strange History of the American Pipeline by Stephanie Joyce was published in 2014 by the Wyoming Public Media and Inside Energy.
- The London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company (a/k/a Gas Light & Coke Company) was the first company to supply London with coal gas and operated the first public gas works company in the U.K.
- Team Drivers International Union (n/k/a International Brotherhood of Teamsters) is a labor union that started in 1903 and now represents more than 1 million union workers in the U.S. and Canada.
- Jimmy Hoffa (James R. Hoffa) was the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the face of American labor unions during the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Jimmy disappeared in July 1975 and was subsequently declared dead. There have been several theories about the end-result for Jimmy through the years.
- The Mannesmann brothers (Reinhard and Max) received the world’s first patent for their invention of a process to roll seamless steel pipes, which became known as the Mannesmann Process. Their work led to the creation of a new corporation, Mannesmann, in 1890.
- Tidewater Pipe Company, founded in 1878, attempted to compete against Standard Oil by introducing a new way to deliver oil through pipelines over rugged terrain.
- Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was the first act passed by the U.S. Congress to break up monopolies and prohibit trusts. Senator John Sherman of Ohio was instrumental in the process as the chairman of the Senate finance committee and the Secretary of the Treasury.
- Philadelphia and Suburban Gas Company is credited with coming up with a solution for welding together joints in pipelines by using oxyacetylene torches in 1911.
- Oxyacetylene torches are a heating source that uses acetylene and oxygen to create combustion.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hepburn Act of 1906 gave the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) the power to set maximum railroad rates. By the Hepburn Act, the authority of the ICC extended to oil pipelines as well as other forms of transportation.
- The New London, Texas Incident in March 1937 was the result of a natural gas leak in the London School. According to reports, gas had been leaking from a residue line tap and built up inside the enclosed crawlspace that ran the entire length of the building’s facade. A spark then ignited the gas, causing the building to explode, injuring or killing hundreds of students and teachers. This led to the emergence of the Texas state legislation requiring the odorization of gas distribution lines.
- 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.
Pipeline History to 1937: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 140, sponsored by Burns & McDonnell, delivering pipeline projects with an integrated construction and design mindset, connecting all the elements, design, procurement, sequencing at the site. Burns & McDonnell uses its vast knowledge, the latest technology, and an ownership commitment to safely deliver innovative quality projects. Learn how Burns & McDonnell is on-site through it all at burnsmcd.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 David Aguilar with Holly Energy Partners. Congratulations, David, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around ‘til the end of the episode.
This week, we have Claudia Farrell and Rebekah Taylor of Burns & McDonnell to talk to us about a pipeline history up to 1937. You might ask yourself, “Why only until 1937?” Well, we had fun talking about this, and that’s as far as we got. We’ll probably schedule another episode to get the rest of it.
Claudia, Rebekah, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Claudia Farrell: Thank you so much.
Rebekah Taylor: Thanks, Russel.
Russel: I’d like to start by asking each of you ladies to introduce yourself. Rebekah, maybe you’ll go first. Tell us a little bit about your background, what you do, and how you got into pipelining. We’re going to be talking about the history of pipelining, so maybe you can tell me a little bit about how you became a pipeline history geek.
Rebekah: Absolutely. Hi, I’m Rebekah, and I am a meter and regulating engineer. I hired on with Burns & McDonnell about four years ago. Before that, I’d been a field engineer, and I was ready and interested to get a little bit more into midstream.
When I hired on to Burns & McDonnell, I had a really great manager who thought I’d be a great fit for our pipelines group. As I learned more about pipelines and how to design meter and regulating stations, it made me ask all these questions of why we were designing things the way we were designing them and where all these codes and regulations came from.
My manager, Denys Stavnychyi, who is doing another podcast, put a book on my desk, and it taught me a lot about the history of pipelines and why we do things the way we do them.
Russel: Claudia, same question. Tell us a little bit about what you do, and your background, and how you got interested in pipeline history.
Claudia: As senior project engineer here at Burns & McDonnell — and I’ve also been with the company for about four years — I’ve been in the consulting side for my career, no field experience on this end. In addition to my engineering background, I also have some Bachelor of Arts credits to my name.
I’ve always enjoyed history, and when I started moving into the pipeline industry, I wanted to know more about the history of pipelines and how we got to where we are today.
Russel: You know, guys, I am such a nerd in this domain. I am the same way. I love history. I do a lot of training. When I teach, I always teach the history of things and why we do things the way we do and how it’s anchored back to where the technology comes from or whatever. I’m really excited about this.
Probably we ought to set the stage because none of us are actually, none of us have degrees in history, none of us are actual official historians. Maybe you guys could share a little bit about where you did your research and where you pulled this data from that we’re going to talk about.
Rebekah: Absolutely. A lot of this information, it’s all widely available on the Internet. The book that my manager put on my desk was “The History of the Standard Oil Company” by Ida Tarbell. Another resource I used was “The Strange History of the American Pipeline” by Stephanie Joyce. She’s part of the Wyoming Media, Public Media, and Inside Energy.
Russel: Interesting. I need to read both of these. I don’t think I’ve read either one. Awesome.
Claudia: As Rebekah mentioned, the history that we’re going to talk about is all publicly available. We just got interested in it and wanted to know how we got here. As with most things that happened 100 years ago, there’s some discrepancies about the exact details that we may talk about.
Russel: It should also probably be stated that we’re believing what we read on the Internet.
Claudia: Excellent point.
Russel: We’re right on the knife’s edge, man, right on the knife’s edge.
Rebekah: If anyone has any corrections, email Russel directly.
Russel: [laughs] That’s awesome. Well played. Actually, I’m cool with that. Get billed at Pipeliners Podcast, contact us, send us corrections, and I’ll declare them on a later podcast. All right. So when did pipelining start? How did it first become a need for us to have pipelines?
Rebekah: Well, I’m going to hop across the pond and we’re going to start in 1806. The London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company laid the first gas mains under a public street, creating these gas light districts.
At that time, they weren’t using natural gas. They were using manufactured gas which was derived from burning coal, oil, or wood. So that was when we were first getting into using gas.
And then in 1821, hopping back into the U.S., William Hart, who was a New York blacksmith, dug a well where there was ignitable gas, but linked to the surface of a creek. He was able to harness that gas and ran it to a lighthouse through hollowed, wooden logs, about a half-mile, and then later to a nearby town.
So people were seeing gas. They knew that they were using it for lighting, for heating, and at that point in time, from 1806 to 1821, we made that shift from manufactured gas to using natural gas. But even in 1821, we were still using a lot of manufactured gas, and you’ll hear me reference that later on, too, in the U.S.
Russel: Yeah, this is fascinating. I had the opportunity to go to Erie, Pennsylvania, probably 15 years ago, to the factory where American Meter had built most of its meters over all the years. They had one of every meter they had ever made, dating all the way back to the 1800s.
They had one that was one square foot, hammered, tin box with leather bellows inside. And the bellows would fill up as the gas went in and then contract and push the gas out. Every time it would make it to the bottom, it would click, and that’s how they measured the gas one cubit foot every time the bellows cycled.
Rebekah: Oh, that’s really interesting.
Russel: Yeah. So that’s why all natural gas is measured in cubic feet because that’s the way they started measuring it.
Claudia: Oh, that’s really interesting.
Russel: I’m great at this. Man, let’s keep playing this game. By the way, the listeners should know we’re recording this late, on a Friday afternoon, and we’re all going to a happy hour after this — actually different happy hours.
Claudia: Socially distant happy hours.
Russel: We’re kind of getting in the mood for it, if we sound a little giddy.
Rebekah: So switching over to oil, in 1859, Edwin Drake, who was an out of work railroad conductor, drilled the world’s first commercial oil well in rural Pennsylvania, and it was said to produce about 25 barrels a day, which was more than anyone had known what to do with at the time.
Which is pretty funny because when you think about how many barrels one well can produce today, it can be anywhere from a few hundred to thousands and thousands of barrels a day.
Russel: And nobody would drill a 25 barrel well today.
Claudia: Absolutely not. Not worth the effort.
Rebekah: And so, they were using any type of barrel they could get their hands on to store this oil. So it’d be wine barrels and whiskey barrels and fish barrels, and they would transport them to the refinery.
We know that a barrel is converted to 42 gallons. But at this point in time, a barrel was 44 gallons, allowing 2 gallons to leak or spill during transport. And the transport would be through horse-drawn wagons and the railroad.
So a side note also is that the men who drove the horse-pulled wagons were called teamsters. And these teamsters, they would cause huge traffic jams because there would be hundreds and hundreds of wagons trying to transport these barrels of oil to the railroad terminal, and the railroads and the teamsters would both charge extremely high prices.
And so, obviously, we needed a better way to transport oil than having very inefficient barrels with leaking oil and extremely high prices.
Russel: I would love to find some photographs of that. I think that would just be fascinating.
Claudia: Yeah. Absolutely.
Russel: I don’t say that I have, but I’ve come across photographs from the Spindletop area where they were taking oil, putting it into beer barrels, loading it on wagons, and hauling it off, and it was a messy, messy process to say the least.
Claudia: Well, in 1862 — which I really love this bit of history because it kind of shows you how multiple failures lead to success — J.L. Hutchings attempted the first oil pipeline driven by a rotary pump.
He built a two-inch, cast iron pipeline, but he sautered the joints together with lead and none of the oil made it to its destination. It leaked through all of the joints. And so, although the pipeline was unsuccessful due to its sautered joints, the idea of driving fluids with a rotary pump sparked an innovation in the pipeline industry.
Only a few years later, Samuel Van Syckel, in 1865– he was an oil trader and the leader of the Oil Transportation Association — wanted to break the teamsters’ monopoly.
He had learned from Hutchings’ failure, and so, he created a two-inch, wrought iron pipeline, but he used threaded joints. And so, it successfully could transport 2,000 barrels a day over a five-mile-long pipeline from the well to the railroad depot.
Russel: So the first successful pipeline was five miles long, two inches in diameter, screwed pipe, and a rotary pump. And what year was that, did you say?
Rebekah: It’s 1865. 1862 is when Hutchings attempted his first pipeline. And it just shows you how many people were trying to innovate at this time, and they were using each other as a pyramid to become successful. Also, the idea was to have a more successful transportation strategy than using teamsters.
Russel: Well, I’m sure that had a major impact on their profits, too.
Claudia: Oh, absolutely.
Rebekah: Absolutely. I read something that said they were making $2 to $3 dollars per barrel and the barrels were only $7 to $10 a barrel. So they were making a lot of money off of transporting these oil barrels.
The teamsters obviously were very unhappy about the idea of the pipeline, so they would do what any rational organization would do — they would try to sabotage the pipeline.
For example, Samuel Van Syckel’s pipeline, some of it would be running just on the ground — like it’s laying on the ground — and some of it would be buried two feet underground. So these pipelines weren’t hard to access.
However, the pipeline did prevail. Even though they were trying to sabotage the pipeline, you really couldn’t beat the efficiency of it. It’s interesting — so we start using pipelines instead of teamsters, but we’re still using barrels to measure oil. So it’s interesting that it only took a few decades to make barrels obsolete, but we still use them for counting the amount of oil.
Russel: To this day.
Rebekah: To this day.
Rebekah: And I wanted to do a little side note about the teamsters. In 1901, the teamsters banded together and they created the Team Drivers International Union, and they’re actually known today as a very well known union called the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. So unless you’re Jimmy Hoffa — which we have no idea what happened to him — you’re probably doing just well if you’re part of that union.
Russel: Well, I think a lot of people don’t realize how far back the teamsters go. I mean, the teamsters were involved with driving mule trains, and that goes all the way back to the very early 1800s. And they moved everything. They were the truck drivers of the mule trains basically. They even predated the actual railroads.
And this is probably getting us way off in the weeds, but the interesting thing about the teamsters is they’ve had to continually evolve.
Rebekah: Yeah. And one of the most fascinating things about the teamsters is they constantly evolved to their surroundings. So whether that was wagons, or whether that’s trucks and trucking, these union guys really stuck together. It’s just incredibly interesting and makes me very happy that they’re still here today.
Russel: Right. We don’t have that many things that have that kind of history.
Russel: Right. So we went from wood for the first natural gas pipeline to sautered cast iron to threaded cast iron.
Rebekah: Well, it was wrought iron.
Russel: Wrought iron, thank you. See, that’s an engineer, right, correcting me because I said the wrong kind of iron.
Rebekah: Well, that’s what I do, Russel. I come onto your podcast and then correct you.
Russel: Hey, if I were an expert, I wouldn’t have to have all these conversations, right? So how has that evolved over the years? It’s interesting to understand that’s how it started. How has it evolved over the years?
Rebekah: Right. And there’s some pretty significant dates that show how the design of pipeline has changed. First, we’re starting with wood, then we’re going into using cast iron. And then as history goes on, as people are trying different things with their pipeline, we’re seeing what is a best fit for oil and what’s a best fit for gas.
In 1885, the Mannesmann brothers engineered a machine that could make 40-foot, seamless pipe, which had eliminated a huge link pipeline beforehand. So you’re seeing as more people are getting involved in pipeline, they’re trying out new things and trying to see what works best for transporting oil and natural gas.
Russel: So that manufactured, 40-foot string, was that still cast iron or wrought iron, or were they starting to move to steel at that time?
Rebekah: They were starting to move to steel at that time.
Claudia: And that was possible because of all of the advances that had happened in steelmaking in the 1800s that then allowed them to start using still in new and innovative ways so it was much cheaper.
Russel: Again, kind of a side note, right?
Russel: But natural gas and steelmaking, one helped the other. As you got more natural gas and you could get it to the steel mills, you could make more steel.
Russel: Those two things support one another.
Claudia: Symbiotic relationship.
Rebekah: So I’m going to take us back to 1879, going back to oil. Independent oil men created the first crude oil truck line called Tidewater, which was about 115 miles long.
These other oil men, they were trying to compete with Rockefeller’s position in transportation, but within a year, Rockefeller owned half of Tidewater and started building many other pipelines. So, we do see the industry growing here and people jumping over from railroad into pipelines, just other transportation options.
Obviously, Rockefeller wasn’t the first. Edwin Drake was an out-of-work railroad conductor. And so, you’re seeing even William Hart, he’s a blacksmith. I’m just assuming, but he was probably also working on the railroads. So you’re seeing people in transportation making a leap from railroads into pipelines.
Russel: Yeah. Again, there’s a lot of interesting history around just how those two different transportation systems have competed and partnered over the years, and they’ve done both.
Rebekah: Absolutely. And so, from the 1880s to 1905, refineries were popping up more frequently near oil fields. In 1885, that’s when we were talking about the Mannesmann brothers engineering the seamless pipe which had eliminated a pretty big weak link.
By the 1900s, we’re finding oil as far west as California. And in 1889, we had the Oklahoma land rush. So people are moving West. And as people are moving West, it’s going to help drive these pipelines and where they’re going to eventually be laid.
Russel: Wait a second. I’ve got to ask this again. So what was the year of the Oklahoma land rush? ’89?
Russel: And this is 40 years after the first pipeline.
Russel: That’s fascinating.
Rebekah: It’s so fast, right? When I’m looking at American history, looking back now, we develop and charge forward pretty quickly.
Russel: Yeah. And if you think about that there was a huge disparity between the technology — which the technology at the time was manufacturing and steel and that sort of stuff — but there was a huge disconnect between the technology that was available on the East Coast and the technology that in the central United States.
Rebekah: Oh, absolutely.
Claudia: Very true.
Russel: Yeah. Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. Okay, tell me more. This is awesome.
Claudia: One of the things that we found that was an interesting parallel to the pipeline history is a lot of the natural gas that was being found and the oils that were being refined were going to light kerosene lamps, so that you could now have light during the night time and you could then increase your work hours and all this stuff, so that is fueling industry.
Now you have this huge supply, but Thomas Edison invents the light bulb in 1879, so now you don’t need kerosene for lamps. And so, you can see, “Hey, our demand is going down,” but that’s balanced by Henry Ford building the Model T in the early 1900s. And by 1913, he has this assembly line for cars that are now using oil again.
So, the supply and demand that is through the late 1800s, early 1900s is also just really interesting on fueling this industry.
Russel: When you guys were looking at this, did you find any charts that showed oil booms and busts dating back prior to 1900?
Claudia: We did not, no. That’s an interesting question, though.
Russel: Isn’t though? Because if you think about it, you’re talking about there was this big demand for kerosene because they were using it for lighting, and then the light bulb, that kerosene demand goes away. And then automobiles, now we’ve got a new kind of demand.
And these things are happening like every 10-15 years; major shifts.
Rebekah: Yeah. But at the same time, we’re still using manufactured gas in the U.S. So, even though kerosene is somewhat going away in some parts of the country, we’re still very heavily using manufactured gas on the East Coast.
Claudia: I think it also relates to what you were saying earlier, too, Russel, about how technology on the East Coast was ahead of technology in the central part of the United States.
So even though the light bulb was in use on the East Coast, they were still using kerosene in the middle part of the country. You still needed to move your product to where it was needed, driving the pipeline industry.
Russel: Right. Exactly. Again, I think what’s interesting about this conversation, it illustrates how these shifts in technology move across geography and how that changes supply and demand and infrastructure as those shifts move around. To me, it’s just fascinating.
Rebekah: Absolutely. So now, we’re at 1890 where Standard Oil owned about 80 percent of the world’s refining and transportation, which was owned by Rockefeller. And the U.S. government passes the Sherman Antitrust Act by President Theodore Roosevelt to challenge the Standard Oil Trust.
In 1912, the antitrust litigation was final, and the court ordered that the Standard Oil Company dismantle 33 to 34 — including itself it’d be 34 — of its most important affiliates, giving the stocks to its own shareholders and not to any trust. So this ended up splitting the company into seven sister companies.
And Russel, can you guess what offspring came from these seven sister companies?
Russel: Exxon, Texaco, Chevron, Gulf, Standard…
Russel: That’s five. I can’t think of the other two, but it’s Phillips 66 probably — and it wouldn’t be Shell because they’re Dutch — but it was all the big U.S. oil and gas companies.
Russel: And the interesting thing about that is many of them have merged. They’ve gone back together, like ExxonMobil and Texaco-Shell and such.
Claudia: Right. When Rebekah and I were researching this, we were joking about how Standard Oil split up and how they’ve spent the next hundred years trying to come back together.
Russel: They did the same thing to AT&T.
Russel: They broke up AT&T I think in the ’70s and it’s spent all of its time coming back together.
Rebekah: Yeah. And so, you’re a hundred percent correct, Russel. Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, BP, Marathon, Petroleum, those are some of the companies that now exist because of Standard Oil.
Actually, there are a bunch of diagrams that will show you the history of Standard Oil and all of its companies and that it’s coming back together. It is quite fascinating.
Russel: It’s very fascinating.
Rebekah: So in 1911, the Philadelphia and Suburban Gas Company started welding joints together using oxyacetylene torches. This was a pretty big leap in pipelines because it allowed pipeline links to get longer, diameters to get larger, and increased line pressures.
And then by 1917, with the introduction of World War 1, crude pipelines were spreading.
In about 1920, the American Petroleum Institute estimated about 4,000 miles of pipeline in the U.S., which is about 61 years since the first oil well.
Russel: And how many miles of pipeline do we have in the U.S. now?
Russel: Yeah. Exactly.
Claudia: At least a hundred times more than we did in 1920.
Russel: That’s exactly right.
Rebekah: In 1920, Congress established the Federal Power Commission, the FPC, to coordinate hydroelectric projects under federal control. This regulated the cost of electricity to consumers.
As energy options increased in the United States, the Federal Power Act of 1935 and the Natural Gas Act of 1938 gave the FPC the power to regulate the sale and transportation of electricity and natural gas.
Claudia: And I think it’s one of the precursors to regulation that it started with cost. They wanted to make sure that the American people were getting products delivered to them at a fair cost and that you didn’t have people just marking up things because they could, so I think that was really interesting for me to learn.
We think of regulation now as being so tied to the environment and the well being of people and safety, but it started just as, “We don’t want to pay that.”
Russel: In any current timeframe, regulation is always about what the public’s concerned about.
Claudia: That’s true.
Russel: Because regulation is how Congress or the states or the cities implement the public will. That’s the mechanism, right?
Rebekah: Yeah, that’s interesting because you do start to see a rise in regulations in the 1900s with the Antitrust Act trying to break up the monopoly. And then there was also, in 1906, the Hepburn Act, which made all the interstate pipeline carriers require equal cost to all shippers. And so, you are seeing regulation come in and try to break up any favoritism and any monopolies and try to make it more fair.
Russel: Yeah. That would actually be an interesting conversation around the history of regulation. And I’ve never done this, by the way, but I think if you were to look at that what you would find is, well, we started to regulate to control costs and then that led to these problems. Then we regulated to control this other thing and that led to different problems, and we regulated to control this other thing.
Russel: I think that’d be interesting as well in this whole thing. So we’re talking about rules and regulations. I think you guys are probably going to get to this, but there was a major event in 1937. Can you tell me what that was?
Claudia: Yeah, so there was a major event in 1937, and I’m going to step back to 1934 to kind of build up the context here. In 1934, the East Texas oil boom is booming and there are hundreds of wells all over the place. This was a time before you had horizontal drills.
And so, if you had a large area that you were trying to extract oil and gas out of, you were going to have a whole bunch of wells going across it, so that you were hitting every part of that deposit.
Russel: Before there were any regulations around separation.
Claudia: That is also true. So in 1934, there was a school in New London, Texas that had 17 rigs on the school property. That’s a lot. That seems like that’d be very close together.
But part of the agreement with the school and the oil companies was that the extra natural gas that was coming out of the well as they were digging for oil was being piped to the school, and they were using it for heating.
This was just going to be flared off anyway, so the school had an agreement that they didn’t have to pay for heating costs. They could just use this extra gas coming out of the wells.
And that was going along swimmingly, but three years later, in 1937, the school renegotiated their gas supply, and they canceled their contract that they had with Union Gas.
They just tapped into a nearby pipeline, which was also carrying residual gas. This was a time when you just went out there, and you tapped into the line, and you brought it where you needed it to go. That was it. No one really gave it a whole second thought.
The problem was that this new company, Parade Gasoline Company, was extracting heavier hydrocarbons that they were using to refine for gasoline. The natural gas that they were getting was at a higher flow than what they had been seeing.
Russel: It was also liquids-rich.
Claudia: It was, yes.
Russel: Meaning it had a high concentration of natural gas liquids in it, where the other well was more stripper gas and didn’t have a lot of much other than methane in it.
Claudia: What happened was that this gas tapping from the residual gas line was coming into the school, and, ultimately, a spark from the school’s wood shop triggered a gas explosion. It, unfortunately, killed almost 300 students and teachers. Others who had been injured in the incident later succumbed to their injuries and also perished.
It was just a horrible tragedy. It affected an entire community. This is a rural part of Texas here. Almost everyone had a student or knew a teacher. It just wreaked havoc on the community.
Russel: It made international news. It was a very, very big thing. It was not long after that that there was another major disaster in Texas City related to ammonia fertilizer coming off of a chemical plant.
Do you know what technology was invented and mandated as a result of that incident?
Claudia: One of the things that came out of this incident was the requirement to odorize natural gas with some sort of malodorant. What we now think of as the smell of natural gas, that rotten egg smell, is actually injected into the natural gas so that if there is a leak and people smell this rotten egg smell, they know that there’s a gas leak and they need to move away from the area and call the authorities.
Russel: It’s fascinating. It’s fascinating how this industry’s evolved. We’ve come from this situation of it just being a free for all to it’s a very controlled, very highly engineered, and mostly very safe business.
Claudia: I just want to add I’d mentioned that this wasn’t just a willy nilly gas tap that happened. This incident drove the Texas government to enact engineering laws. There were other states that had already adopted some engineering laws, and were certifying engineers to practice, and had a professional board.
That dates back to 1907 with Wyoming, but this was the main catalyst in Texas that something needed to be done. We needed to regulate the people who are performing this work who understand the consequences and value human safety.
Russel: Exactly. Guys, this is so awesome. [laughs] I’ve really enjoyed this. This really feeds my inner nerd. I got to tell you it really feeds my inner nerd. It’s gotten me interested. We’ll post in the show notes the names of the two books that you guys referenced for a lot of this information because I think there’s probably a lot of folks other than just me that’d like to read it.
Really appreciate you guys coming on and providing this information. I do have one question I want to ask. Whenever you have people talk about history, it’s always good to ask what do you think the future is for pipelines.
Rebekah: We have so much technology. Whenever I was doing all of my research, the 2000s, from 2000 onward, we’ve very much been focusing on a technology high with new discoveries in oil and gas, increased transportation, having bidirectional lines.
I see the future with renewable and natural gas and power to gas applications. Now we’re starting to see some links between being able to use renewable and natural gas and power to gas to put electricity back on the grid. Starting to align more with our other electrical utilities looks like a very bright future for us.
Russel: Interesting. Claudia, you got anything to add to that?
Claudia: Russel, I do not. I’m going to let Rebekah finish that one out.
Russel: Okay, fair enough. What I would say is that we’re going to see some significant advances in technology for the operation and maintenance of pipelines around drones, and telecommunications, and increasing levels of instrumentation.
We’re going to see a lot being done around taking all these very complex and disparate kinds of data between mapping, and integrity management, and other things, and integrating all that. We’re going to get even more efficient and even safer than we are currently.
Russel: I also would say they’re not going away, not any time soon.
Rebekah: Not yet.
Russel: Too much need for not only just using oil and gas for transportation and power generation but for plastics. You can’t make an electric car without oil and gas.
Rebekah: It’s true. We’re all betting on it.
Russel: In my case, it’s more than just a bet, but I’m with you. Listen, thanks again, guys. This has been a lot of fun. It’s a great way to end a week for me and really appreciate you all coming on the podcast.
Rebekah: Thank you so much for having us, Russel. This was wonderful.
Claudia: I had a great time. Thanks, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our historical conversation with Claudia and Rebekah. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinepodcastnetwork.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
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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 pipelinepodcastnetwork.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords