Sometimes a journalist or pundit says something so stupid and so amazingly clueless that it takes my breath away. Back in July this happened. The blog software my website provider uses has its moments though and it ate the wonderful blog post I wrote on today's subject. It has taken me two months to return to this, one of the lamest things I have ever seen in print.

How lame it is? Let me preface the target of today's blog post with a little personal history. I have worked in rail yards. When you hang out in rail yards, you learn all sorts of cool things about what gets moved around by rail. One of things you learn is that rail roads are really cool. They move freight cheaper than trucks on the interstate for all long hauls greater than a few hundred miles. They are three times cleaner per ton of freight than 18-wheelers and they have really small carbon footprints compared to cars and trucks.

There are some other things I learned about railroads while working at them. I worked as a contractor in the two rail yards around Sacramento owned by Southern Pacific ("SP") back in the late 80s before Union Pacific bought them out. The company I worked for did the environmental engineering and remediation for SP at the time. The Roseville Railyard was a Superfund site back then. I did a lot of environmental stuff there and managed all the environmental activities in the yard for a time, before I flipped the jerks who ran the environmental engineering firm the bird and quit. Having done environmental stuff in a railyard left me with an understanding of the transport of all kinds of hazardous stuff that travels by rail.

On the flip side, I've also worked in and around pipelines, the kind that carry oil and gas, and yes, crude. My first pipeline carried jet fuel from a US Navy dock facility on the central California coast, over the California Coast Ranges, and into the Naval Air Station at Lamar, in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. There was an indication it had a small leak somewhere. My work partner and I went leak hunting.

In the environmental geology world, the biggest concern over pipelines, though, is in the context of running drill rigs during environmental investigations. It's not a good thing to accidentally drill through a pipeline. Back when I was running all the field activities at the Roseville Railyard, I had one sampling location along the street right by the railyard's diesel repair shop. There was a PG&E pipeline scant feet from the sample location. In fact, we moved that location away from the pipeline. Regardless, being 4 feet removed was still too close for PG&E, who sent a crew out to dig out the pipeline by hand and then shore their excavation while we drilled our sampling well. That's just a sample of two of the pipelines I've run into in my day.

All of this is germane, which you'll appreciate in just a moment more when I unveil the reason for this post.

So, what is this marvel that compelled me to rant and rail (pun intended) for your benefit herein? Well, it's a rather astounding utterance in print from our friends at the Wall Street Journal in the aftermath of the ongoing tragedy in Lac Megantic.

Y'all remember Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, n'est pas? Where there was that horrific train derailment and explosion, a pile of people dead, a beautiful little town on a lovely lake destroyed? Did I mention anywhere yet that I've been there? I've driven through Lac-Mégantic twice, going to and from Trois Rivieres last October. It was a pretty place surrounded by forests and the last gasps of the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains. The view from downtown out over the lake was breath-taking. I don't look forward to revisiting. By all reports, the entire center of the town is gone. Photo: @sureteduquebec, Twitter

So what was this utterance in the Wall Street Journal? It was in an editorial with the provocative title of: "Can Environmentalists Think?" by one Bret Stephens, published on July 8, 2014 (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323368704578593562819939112.html?KEYWORDS=can+environmentalists+think, accessed July 8 and September 23, 2013).

The editorial is a rant about all the environmental types wailing over the transport of crude by train vs. pipeline in the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic disaster. Of course, a lot of hand-wringing was done by the environmentalist types about how Lac-Mégantic shouldn't be used as a reason to support pipelines like the Keystone XL project. The tone of the editorial is rather caustic and the author laments, rightly so, about the lack of common sense and practical knowledge of most environmental activists about the real-world compromises that modern society has to make to support our industrial infrastructure. His points were apt though his sarcasm and tone were distasteful to me. Granted as someone who has a legitimate claim to having made a living as a professional in environmental science, I can't say that I have a lot of respect for your average environmental eco-idiot. Most of them have little real understanding of the science of the field they espouse to champion. I'm not sure who I dislike more: the businesses I've worked for who would let their environmental damage sit and be ignored if not forced by law to do something about it or the environmental crusaders who have no clue as to the real issues and science behind the causes they espouse. The former are near-criminals and the latter are living examples of my favorite adage that thinking is work and people are lazy...

You can see that I didn't much like the editorial. It wasn't respectful in a bad-manners kind of way. In fact, it was insulting and annoying and I'm not even one of the folks being insulted. It was needlessly nasty in my opinion (yours, of course, may differ). But that's not why I'm dissing this piece of work...

What set me off badly enough to make it the target of my blog? It's the following really clueless statement:

"Pipelines also tend not to go straight through exposed population centers like Lac-Mégantic."

The author was arguing the virtues of pipelines environmentally and this was one of his points about their safety in comparison to railroads. Now, I think I might know a thing about railroads and pipelines both.

So here's a short list of just a few places that pipelines make a beeline straight through exposed populations centers larger in size than Lac-Mégantic and its approximate 5000 souls. Population figure are from the 2010 US Census. To be absolutely rigorous, I have limited this list to places that I can personally go and stand on the pipelines in question. This is not a theoretical list made from using someone else's reference material. These are crude oil pipelines I know myself professionally, can stand on their path and point to the downtowns or residential neighborhoods they transit.

  • Conroe, TX pop. 56207
  • Taft, CA pop. 9327
  • South St. Louis, MO pop. 318172
  • Salt Lake City, UT pop. 189314
  • Farmington, UT pop. 18275
  • Bountiful, UT pop. 42522
  • Layton, UT pop. 67311
  • Eureka, CA pop. 27191
  • Rawlins, WY pop. 9259

Did the author of this editorial even bother to do any research on pipelines before suffering from verbal diarrhea?