Books

"Crime Scene": Oil Industry Vultures Pick Over Alaska

In this excerpt of investigative journalist Greg Palast's new book "Vulture's Picnic," Palast tracks the mess wrought by the oil industry in Alaska.

The following is Part II of an excerpt from Greg Palast's "Vultures' Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores." In Part 1, published here, journalist Greg Palast meets Etok, "the unofficial and at times the official sovereign of this polar territory," of Northern Alaska, who's waging battle against brutal multinational corporate forces. Part II starts off with Palast flying off to "Dead Horse" -- land taken over by the oil industry. (for a copy of Vulture's Picnic, click here.)

DEAD HORSE

From Kaktovik, I flew with Etok into Dead Horse, whose prettified name, Prudhoe Bay, graces the BP/Exxon/Shell field, including the drilling rigs balanced on fake islands and the giant machinery that stuffs the crude into the pipeline for its ride to Valdez.

Etok looked down, his jaw clenched, and I could see history taking another bite of his heart. “A crime scene,” he said.

In 1969, a New Mexico oilman and rancher, R. O. Anderson, discovered oil here and staked his claim. His “discovery” was quite some news to the North Slope Eskimos, who had been burning crude oil for centuries while the United States was still burning whales. Anderson’s claim stake, in the name of his company, ARCO, also came as a surprise to the Natives, who already owned the land.

Now if it had been the other way around, if an Eskimo had “discovered” R.O.’s cows on R.O.’s ranch and decided to ship the meat to the Arctic, we’d call it cattle rustling, thievery. And we’d call his property a crime scene.

Etok’s “Pleistocene”  people had been digging oil for millennia, and since 1873, drilling for it. Etok’s dad, from whom he inherited the Arctic’s most experienced harpoon, was an engineer in the oil field during World War II, helping to pull up the Natives’ crude for the U.S. Navy to fuel the defense against the expected invasion from Japan. The Navy never paid the $84 million it owes for this oil. (Etok, not surprisingly, vows to collect it.)

In 1970, not long after R.O.’s ARCO grabbed the North Slope drilling rights, the Arab oil embargo shot oil prices through the ceiling and made R. O. Anderson, “owner” of Prudhoe Bay, richer, by my estimate, than God. That wasn’t enough. Anderson’s “discovery” at Dead Horse would be worth even more if only he could get it to Japan.

Japan? A geography lesson is required here. In Mrs. Gordon’s sixth-grade class, Alaska was that big-ass square in the upper left corner of the pull-down map of the United States hanging above the blackboard. Alaska had a strip of dots to the left of the square, the Aleutian Islands, the Ice Age stepping stones the Pleistocene hunters walked across from Russia. And there was a long thing hanging from it, a peninsula that looks like a hose dripping down to the Lower 48 states. You could almost see Alaska’s succulent resources draining into our puny little states below Canada.

That’s the deal, isn’t it? We bought Alaska from the Russians and now we can suck on that fat straw, chug down the crude like a frat boy on his back getting wasted on a hose from a keg of beer.

But look at a globe, not a flat map. Turn it so that the Arctic, not the equator, is pointing at you. Think of the North Pole as the nipple, Alaska as what- ever. What you’ll see is that oil-starved Nagasaki is only two thousand miles from Alaska (that’s why the Emperor chose it as the invasion route), a thousand miles closer than the refineries in California.

You’d have to be a complete pinhead to think Anderson and partners were going to ship their oil anywhere but to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Now turn the globe slightly upward and you see the cheapest way to move the oil to Japan would be to pipe it dead south to Valdez and carry it by tanker through the Pacific.

But 1970 also marked the first Earth Day. The day for Mother Nature was celebrated just three weeks before the largest mass demonstration in U.S. his- tory: the two-million-strong march against Nixon’s war in Vietnam.

Earth Day was a protest Nixon could join as a distraction from the national freak-out over the “draft,” the Vietnam death lottery. Like a game show, 365 days of the calendar were picked out of a bowl. If your birthday was between 1 and 100, off you went (unless your name was Bush). A thousand Americans were dying each week alongside twenty thousand native Vietnamese.

Nixon painted himself as green as a BP gas station, with as much sincerity. Little did the mad, Red-baiting president know that the environmental movement, despite its hippie tree-hugger front, was carefully crafted and launched by the best of America’s Leftist mass-mobilization organizers. It was centered around the brilliant biologists Paul Ehrlich and Barry Commoner, one of my mentors, who’d been trained by the Communist Party.

The guys in black jammies kicking the shit out of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia gave the tactically adept founders of the ecology movement the opportunity to widen the anti-war protests to include kicking the crap out of corporate polluters.

The militant biologist allied with a young lawyer Victor Yannacone who invented something he called “environmental law.” Copying the tactics of the Civil Rights struggle, Yannacone politically militarized the birdwatchers of the Audubon Society and created a legal attack team for Audubon called the Environmental Defense Fund. Its first suit against a polluter was filed on behalf of their “client,” plaintiff “Nature.” Miss Nature won. (It would take at least a decade before corporate powers would purchase EDF’s affection and destroy Yannacone. We’ll get to that.)

The millions marching for peace were now ready to march against polluters. That was trouble for R. O. Anderson, ARCO, and British Petroleum. The water route to Japan was inherently dangerous. There could be a million-gallon spill. The Alaska Pipeline and water route would be one tough sell through a Democratic Congress. Yannacone’s Environmental Defense Fund pushed for a less risky all-land route, a three-thousand-mile pipeline through Canada.

But R.O. wasn’t going to let some caribou kissers get in the way of his dream of selling to Japan. So R.O. went to Washington, whistled, and President Nixon came right over to Anderson’s quarters at the Watergate complex.

(While Nixon and R.O. met, I was serving my country in Washington, DC—in jail.)

R.O.’s Plan A would be to wrap the shorter Prudhoe-to-Valdez pipeline in red, white, and blue. America must become Energy Independent! U.S. oil for the U.S.A.!

Nixon and R.O. must have had a chuckle as their pipeline to Valdez would keep the oil out of America. Not to mention that ARCO and partners had a quiet scheme to sell the Alaska Pipeline and oil fields to the British. BP had signed a pact with Sohio, ARCO’s partner, to buy out Sohio’s Alaska assets. But BP knew it had to keep its Limey head hidden while the pipe to Valdez was wrapped in the American flag. BP’s scheme was quite brilliant, I admit: The Brits would take formal ownership only after 450,000 barrels of oil had moved through the pipe.

Gamblers hope to improve their luck by having a good-looking woman blow on their dice before they roll them. Likewise, R.O. and Nixon needed Henry Kissinger to blow on their pipe. They knew Kissinger didn’t believe in luck. The game had to be fixed, the dice loaded. Kissinger’s solution was to use the environmental movement’s power in Canada to raise objections to an oil pipe- line across their pristine land.

It worked. Canadians balked at a pipeline from Alaska. So, as Congress prepared for a nail-biting vote on the pipeline authorization, the Canada land route pushed by environmentalists was simply closed off, at least publicly.

In fact, after its initial reservations, the Canadian government had sent a diplomatic missive to the State Department, saying Canada would remove its objection to the pipeline. Kissinger did not bother Congress with this in- formation.

In March 1973 the United States Senate voted on the Valdez water route. It was a dead tie. Something almost never seen in American history. Few Americans know that the U.S. Constitution gives the Vice President of the United States the right to break a tie vote. In this rare constitutional maneuver, Vice President Spiro Agnew voted in R.O.’s favor. It was Agnew’s fare- well finger to America before his resignation and indictment on charges of bribery.

R.O. won his short, cheap pipe from Prudhoe to Valdez, but he lost the battle for Japan. He hadn’t figured on Yvonne Brathwaite-Burke, the Congresswoman from Compton.

Compton is best known as the place where the competitive talking blues of former African slaves, called signifying monkey, was transformed into the less simian-sounding rap, then hip-hop. Compton, tucked into the armpit of Los Angeles, is the Baku of California. Brathwaite-Burke’s district is home to filthy oil refineries and loads of poor folk. Filthy or not, oil to Compton meant jobs for her district.

At the last moments before the Pipeline vote in the House, this African American woman, usually ignored by the rulers, inserted an amendment into the pipeline bill requiring that every barrel of Alaska’s piped oil must be shipped and refined in the United States. That is, Compton. She had called their bluff: If this was oil for America, then it had to stay in America. The stupid white men didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. Her amendment passed.

Japan or not, R.O. now had his field and pipe, which he could then sell to BP for a queen’s ransom. The Queen was willing to pay big bucks to give BP that magic 50.1 percent ownership of Alaska’s oil.

(Etok left us there at Dead Horse, after pointing out another crime scene, BP’s Liberty “Island.”  Just after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, President Obama halted all offshore drilling. BP Alaska just grinned. Rather than drill from a platform, it created a fake island, then drilled sideways for eight miles under the Arctic Ocean floor. Liberty is a Deepwater Horizon operation, but turned on its side. (These guys think Americans are stupid; but why is it necessary to prove it?)

Is BP operating more safely here than in the Gulf? When we landed, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (the one founded by Etok) was still cleaning up BP’s huge spill from 2006, four years earlier. BP pled guilty to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act and was put on three years’ probation.

The company was still on probation when it blew out the Macondo well in the Gulf. Now, if you steal a bike and break probation, you go to jail. If a corporation breaks probation, they go to . . . what? BP did not even lose its Gulf lease or its right to operate the Pipeline. Apparently, Power and Mystification over- balances Crime.

The company paid a $20 million fine for failing to inspect the Alaska Pipe- line for corrosion. Think of the $20 million as a cheap permit to delay a half billion dollars in pipe replacements.

What’s $20 million? BP’s Alyeska consortium has moved half a trillion dollars’  worth of liquid through that pipe. But I didn’t fly to Dead Horse to sightsee at a fake island. I am looking for an “old friend” I’ve never met.

A couple of years back, I received an extraordinary note from a guy who couldn’t be better placed. The message was like manna from Heaven, or if I were Inupiat, a whale falling from the sky.

How can I confidentially contact Greg Palast? I am an ex-employee of BP and I can tell you all about the safety issues on the Pipeline. 

“Ex-employee” is one way of putting it. I confirmed who we had. Calling himself an ex-employee is like calling a shark an “ex-minnow.” He had been a big fish at BP-Alaska, BP-Azerbaijan, BP-Colombia. I was hoping to find him still in Prudhoe, and talk face-to-face.

But his e-mail address had changed. I didn’t like that. I liked it even less when, after searching all night, Badpenny located his new office number—in Houston. I gave him a ring through his office switchboard and heard his friendly Southern drawl:

“Doncha ever ever EVER call me here. Or call me anywhere. Ever EVER. I work inside this . . . well, can’t talk can’t talk.”

I took it he didn’t want to talk. I work inside this . . . This Leviathan. Swallowed whole.  
 

DELTA JUNCTION 

Rick and I skulked around the off-limits part of the Dead Horse Prudhoe encampment, Etok’s buddies on security detail winking us through. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I found it anyway: A huge airplane hangar– size building marked PIG. It wasn’t BP’s Lord Browne’s old office. It was another crime scene. The BP/Alyeska pipeline was dripping and ripping. In five years, it had dumped a quarter-million gallons of crude into the tundra. BP’s pipeline is an Exxon Valdez in slow motion.

Based on the cancers I’d seen in Ecuador, I knew what would happen if this oozing continued. But this is America, not Ecuador, and we don’t let these things happen. So how come it is happening?

I only trusted one man to tell me the truth: Inspector Dan Lawn.

When we found the Inspector, he told me I couldn’t understand spam if I didn’t go immediately to Pump Station #9 on Delta Junction, which, accord- ing to a map, was a couple hundred miles from nowhere. He offered to take us by Jeep. Including his drive from Anchorage, that meant a thousand-mile trip for him without sleep.

I should say “Inspector Lawn, retired.” Now that he no longer has to spend his days monitoring oil transport, he spends his days monitoring oil transport. He’s a walking Wikipedia of pipes and petroleum; and I love to stand in the warm shower of his gushing spray of facts, figures, and documents. For me, the hundreds of miles by Jeep alongside the pipeline was a techno-treat.

Just months earlier, on May 24, 2010, Pump Station #9 had cracked open and barfed up 100,000 gallons of crude. A 100,000-gallon spill used to be news. But you didn’t read about it because the Macondo hole in the Gulf was spewing that much in four hours. Add 100,000 gallons to the 200,000 gallons at Prudhoe. Those are warning spurts of BP’s next disaster.

Why is the pipe going to hell? I asked the Inspector for just the facts.

“They haven’t pigged it.” That is, they didn’t run the Pipeline Inspection Gauge, the PIG, the robot that runs inside the pipe. If they had, the Smart PIG (one with sensor-feelers) would have squealed at every crack and rusty chunk of the tube.

Sure enough, the records show that 400 miles of the Pipe hadn’t seen a PIG in eight years. Why? It costs up to a million dollars a mile to operate. Four hundred miles, $400 million. BP must have realized it’s cheaper to pay a fine.

After endless government scoldings, the company merely threw coins on the ground for the fines and laughed until Pump Station #9 caught fire and spewed oil, then laughed some more. The Inspector filled me up with another book’s worth of scary info, then dropped us in Fairbanks and began his second sleepless night of driving. Badpenny, worried, stayed up past dawn chatting with him by cell every hour to keep him awake and safe. If you need a guardian angel, you could do worse.

But here’s what bugged me. There was one time when the Smart PIG did squeal. And its timing was brilliant.

In 2006, BP’s Trans-Alaska Pipeline suffered a remarkably timed accident. They ran the PIGs and found that the pipes converging on Prudhoe were cracking, eaten up by corrosion. The BP consortium, thinking about safety first, shut down the pipeline. It was an emergency. And it was August.

How could they suddenly discover massive corrosion that had been there for years? Inspector Lawn had written jeremiads about the corrosion seven- teen years earlier. And his umpteenth warning was published just five months before the panicked shutdown.

Besides, BP should have known about the problem years before that, if only because they had tapped the Inspector’s home phone. (BP was caught spying on the Inspector, had to pay him a bundle, and he used it all to create a foundation for oil transport safety. In other words, the man is a Passion Play in a parka.)

They missed the corrosion for seventeen years until August 2006. So why did a PIG suddenly oink?

That was some smart pig. The business pages of the August 8 Washington Post might give us a clue:  

PIPELINE CLOSURE SENDS OIL HIGHER

BP TO HALT PRODUCTION OF 400,000 BARRELS A DAY IN ALASKA 

News that BP would have to suspend production equal to 8 percent of U.S. petroleum output for an indefinite period helped push the price of crude oil up by 3 percent yesterday, to $76.98 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price jump underlined the fragility of world oil markets, already anxious about the thin cushion between global supply and demand and potential threats to flows from Iran, Nigeria, Iraq and the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico. 

BP sold eight million barrels a day. In just a few days, the windfall would more than pay that $20 million fine.

Am I saying that BP chose to shut the Pipe at that exact moment when they could squeeze the world market? Would BP lie and manipulate the market like that? I am saying nothing. I shall, however, note that six weeks before the shut- down, a BP executive pleaded guilty to criminal manipulation of the U.S. pro- pane gas market.

OK, we have motive. But opportunity? Something was very odd about BP’s PIGs. The Inspector said they weren’t run. But now we knew that when they were run, they didn’t see a thing for years. Then suddenly, they did.

Something about these PIGs isn’t kosher.*

First clue: When BP shut down the pipeline, National Public Radio ran a gushing report about the brilliant PIGs used by the industry. But PIGs aren’t perfect, a pipeline consultant told NPR. The reporter agreed, adding, “There have been cases where a pig said a pipe was okay, then it later ruptured.” Then, an industry guy said, “Someone might misinterpret the pig’s data.”

WHAT!!??!!

QUESTION ONE: Must U.S. reporters submit to hypnosis before inter- views? Lobotomy? Or are they just drugged by careerism and lazy-fuckism?

QUESTION TWO: What if these pigs weren’t dumb at all but instead were astonishingly clever? What if pig data was deliberately misinterpreted, or deliberately controlled to miss trouble?

To shut a pipe for corrosion and replace it costs millions and millions. If the pig could be calibrated to be less sensitive, millions could be saved. Billions even.

So I asked myself: The oil companies use smart pigs, which they pay millions for, but then the pigs turn out to be kind of dim-witted. They miss stuff. Pipes explode. People fry. Nevertheless, the companies don’t sue the PIG maker?

A human you silence with threats. A robot you silence with computer code.

Badpenny went back to a note that gave us the closest thing to a journalistic orgasm: it was from someone who knew the program had been jacked, fiddled, faked. The software used to analyze the data made the PIGS dangerously, deliberately stupid. How did this guy know? He wrote the program.

Now came the hard part: Bringing him in from the cold and corroborating this information. “Pig Man #1” said, “Forget it.” His career would be toast. He could get sued, blackballed.

Then, suddenly, Pig Man #1, after an extraordinary turn of events, changed his mind. He would not remain silent. His decision wasn’t an easy one. 
 

SOMEWHERE, USA 

“They threatened me. Last night I got a call and they threatened me. If I talked.”

Oh shit oh no oh my God how did they find out damn it but please please tell me you’re still getting on the plane.

“But I’m still getting on the plane.” Dear Lord, I take back everything I’ve said about You this week. It was Pig Man #1. We met somewhere in the USA. I forget where. In a darkened room—not a hotel, no receipts to track—Rick wired him up, put a blinding light behind him to leave his face only a talking shadow with nervous hands.

“Wow,” said Pig Man. “I feel like I’m in the CIA.” Rick said, not thinking, “The last guy I filmed was CIA. In Afghanistan.”

Pig Man asked, “What happened to him?” We changed the topic to the lighting. Pig Man wanted to take a souvenir photo of me on his own cell phone,

nothing that will transmit via computer. Director James said, “Absolutely no!” We went through the motions of ultra-security although the company knows who he is, knows who I am, and we know they know it. But we didn’t like to think about that.

Pig Man told me again about the marvelous machine, the Pipeline Inspection Gauge, the way it could chug through a pipeline, leashed to a GPS, sending out beeps and boops. An elaborate and expensive software program trans- lated PIG-ese into colored charts that marked spots of dangerous corrosion, bad cracks, or other dangers. The law requires it, so BP bought the software, and uses it.

Or maybe BP used it. But if BP did run the PIG through the Alaska Pipe- line, shouldn’t it have caught the corrosion that led to the 2006 explosion, to the Prudhoe Bay spill disaster? Yes, he said, absolutely. The PIG would have caught it in advance.

But only, he added, if errors in the program were corrected. Was it corrected? “My team corrected it. I was part of a team, corrected the error.” His team even did it on their own time. They were very proud that they had found the problem and did the difficult reprogramming to conform the software to the sensitivities required by federal law. I know Americans love to hate bureaucrats with their thick rule books, but if you lived on top of a pipe- line (and several million of you do), all I can say is, the thicker the better.

Up until his team’s fix, BP’s robo-pigs were fugitives from the law. Now he could make them law-abiding porkers, conformed to the rules. The geeks proudly showed the correction to their supervisor.

They were fired.

Not immediately, though. First, the supervisor tried to explain the difficulties of the fix: “The exact phrase that he used was, ‘This is not going to make a lot of people happy.’”

Why?

“He said that if we release the software with the fix that we could potentially lose sales.”

The company would lose sales if their customers found out their software actually worked?

Exactly.

The oil and gas companies, BP among them, preferred the error to remain in the program, in violation of the law?

“The consequence of fixing the software would be that the client using the software would now have additional costs. . . . That pipeline operator would need to apply fixes to a greater number of pipeline segments, they would have to do more re-routes, which are expensive.”

Expensive is an understatement. Each ten-mile re-route could easily cost $100 million, $200 million.

The company told Pig Man’s crew, “The people we are selling the soft- ware to, pipeline operators, BP, if they were to see that, overnight, they have more problems to deal with, they have larger segments, they have segments that are now classified as higher risk, they would not be so inclined to purchase the software. So they made a business decision.”

Their fix to the software would never leave that office. And the guys who did the fix, only three months into a one-year contract, were terminated.

Were you told not to make it public?

“Yes.” He’d been a little nervous to this point, now he was big nervous. “We had to sign nondisclosure agreements.” They were required to conceal “any problems of this sort or the nature of the software we worked.” It could not “be made public at all. Under threat of lawsuit.” Nice.

But maybe the company was just kidding, and the nondisclosure agreement was just a formality. Maybe he had nothing to fear.

No. He got a call.

“People who worked at the company, they informed me that if I were to speak publicly about this, I would be sued.”

The question was, how did they know he was talking to me? I had the answer: It was my fault.

Good little reporter that I am, I simply could not accept Pig Man’s word without corroboration. Literally millions of dollars hung in the balance and, we soon learned, some burnt corpses to account for.

So I approached one of his coworkers, who verified everything and even agreed to go on camera. But a couple of weeks later, Pig Man #2 panicked and ran. It was just after September 9, 2010, when a pipeline blew in California; eight dead. Some people blew apart instantly, some burnt slowly. I know: I’ve been there, years back, when I was an investigator. I discovered that the giant energy corporation called Peoples Gas that moved natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico into Chicago had been warned by engineers to fix a dangerous pipe- line design. The company decided it was cheaper to wait and pay for the coffins. After eighteen people burnt up, they apologized. They paid out a few bucks, including my fee.

The September 9 pipeline explosion meant the stakes were getting higher. To protect himself and his own career, Pig Man #2 ratted out Pig Man #1.

“I was threatened,” Pig Man #1 repeated on tape, speaking calmly now, with a resignation to the consequences. “A person can be—can be made silent, can be made bankrupt by this power that they hold. Any person that speaks out against the pipeline companies puts a lot at risk, puts a lot . . .”

He trailed off, talking about what could befall “someone.” Needless to say, the “someone” was him.

My only justification for printing and filming his story, and jeopardizing this good man further, beyond the feeble thread of “the public interest,” is that I can offer Pig Man a bit of protection. Dear Pig Man employer: I have a much bigger file than I am spilling here. Any company that dares to go after Pig Man #1 will have much to lose. Capisce? If Pig Man is touched: I know who you are, I know where you operate, and I know what you’ve done.

You notice I have not named BP’s software provider—because it’s not about a bad apple, it’s about an industry rotten from branch to root.

And BP itself? They have plausible deniability. The oil giant could say, like Mr. Gambino, “I didn’t know that Big Louie off’d Jimmy the Skunk.”

But deniability isn’t plausible—because, as Holmes would say, “the dog didn’t bark.”  When the pipe busted in 2006, why didn’t BP bark, bite, and sue its software designers? After all, the failure to find the corrosion problem cost the oil company tens of millions.

Here’s why: Because the software firm could turn around, “discover” their “accidental”  error, and hand it to BP: The total cost of repairs and re- routes to the industry would run into tens of billions of dollars.

Or the software maker could ask BP when the pig was run. Was it run at all? Where’s the data? It costs a million dollars a mile to run a diagnostic pig test. Cheaper to keep them locked in that giant metal PIG-pen in Prudhoe, eh, BP?

Omerta, then, is the wise course both in The Mob and in the Oil Patch.

But now I was curious: Why Pig Man #1? Why now? How come he didn’t run away squealing in fear like Pig Man #2?

He sent the note that got us all hot after he read my story about BP’s Prudhoe pipe burst. Before that, he thought of the coding episode as a professional disagreement, the bottom-line guys stomping on the expert. But reading the Prudhoe story, he realized, that, “This stuff had real-world consequences.”

Before that, Pig Man #1 stayed schtum for years. Still, when I first approached him, he said “no way” to filming, even in shadow. Something then changed his mind, made him volunteer to put his ass on the line. It was the California pipeline blowup. The eight dead. It finally struck him: “People die.”

“I was very disconnected from the real impact that such work has on the general public and people. And so when seeing the explosion . . . it made a direct link between inaccuracies in software that result in death. . . .”

His corporate mask had slipped when the photo of the burnt houses hit the front pages.

all? Where’s the data? It costs a million dollars a mile to run a diagnostic pig test. Cheaper to keep them locked in that giant metal PIG-pen in Prudhoe, eh, BP?

Omerta, then, is the wise course both in The Mob and in the Oil Patch.

But now I was curious: Why Pig Man #1? Why now? How come he didn’t run away squealing in fear like Pig Man #2?

He sent the note that got us all hot after he read my story about BP’s Prudhoe pipe burst. Before that, he thought of the coding episode as a professional disagreement, the bottom-line guys stomping on the expert. But reading the Prudhoe story, he realized, that, “This stuff had real-world consequences.”

Before that, Pig Man #1 stayed schtum for years. Still, when I first approached him, he said “no way” to filming, even in shadow. Something then changed his mind, made him volunteer to put his ass on the line. It was the California pipeline blowup. The eight dead. It finally struck him: “People die.”

“I was very disconnected from the real impact that such work has on the general public and people. And so when seeing the explosion . . . it made a direct link between inaccuracies in software that result in death. . . .”

His corporate mask had slipped when the photo of the burnt houses hit the front pages.

It turns out, the California company whose pipes blew, PG&E, had bad welds holding together a thirty-inch-diameter pipe that wasn’t supposed to have welds at all. A PIG, honestly programmed, could have picked that up easily.

Pig Man #2 saw the same photos, and it caused him to run away. So, what pushed #1 to be a fool to courage?

I took a guess and asked him about the genesis of his soul. “Tell me about your dad.”

His father, he said, was one of the first people in the industry to use computers to analyze pipeline flow and conditions. His dad was one of the men who invented the Smart PIG.

“I talked to my father before I came down here.” Of course he did. “He thought I’m doing the right thing.” Of course he did.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." View Palast's reports for BBC TV and Democracy Now! at gregpalast.com.