"Crime Scene": Oil Industry Vultures Pick Over Alaska
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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.”
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.
“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.