Lindsey Williams – The Energy Non-Crisis – Chapter 8
Chapter 8: Want Some Falcons? just Two Million Dollars… A Pair!
The manager at Happy Valley Camp called me into his office one day (by the way, his name was Charlie Brown, and I always did like Peanuts!) By this time I had begun to notice that some things simply didn’t make a lot of sense. Costs seemed to be exorbitantly high, and as time went by I was to find that this was indeed true in all sorts of strange ways.
The initial constructions phase of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline involved building a road from Fairbanks, Alaska, to the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay. This road is approximately 400 miles long. It is a gravel two lane road, right on top of the tundra. On this Northern Sector of the Pipeline there were no roads, no people, and no towns. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company had to construct everything from scratch. This road from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay is commonly referred to as the haul road.
On this Spring day the haul road was being constructed across a certain area. It is important to know, so that this story will be understood, that the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline haul road that ran from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay was so designed that it would affect the ecology as little as possible.
This might seem strange to most people in the lower 48, that is to say, all the states excluding Alaska and Hawaii, but I have actually seen a ‘dozer driver lose his job just because he accidentally drove the ‘dozer off the main path of the road and drop out onto the tundra. That’s how particular the ecology people were about the protection of the precious tundra. We shall discuss the ecology and environmental protection a little later, but at the moment let us simply say that in the construction of the Pipeline there were many ecologists checking on everything. There were Federal government men, as well as State men, and sometimes you would find these men actually walking out in front of equipment so that they could move away little ground squirrels to make sure that no animal was affected in any way by the building of the haul road.
So this day I was called into Charlie Brown’s office at Happy Valley Camp, and he said, “Chaplain, you’ve just got to see what’s going on here. I just wasted two million dollars.”
I looked at him, wondering what he meant. He did not seem to be too unhappy personally, and I knew that he was talking about the company’s money and not his own.
“Never mind,” I joked with him, “With all the money you’ve got, you won’t even miss a couple of million. I must come to you for a loan myself sometime.”
The manager smiled, but then he became more serious. “Chaplain,” he said, “We talk a lot about the way this Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline cost overrun is getting out of hand. I told you that originally the Pipeline was supposed to cost $2 billion dollars, and that the cost overrun is building up every day. Well, sir, as you know, we are putting this haul road across the hillside just outside Happy Valley, and we’ve been given permission by the government to build the road there. It’s not as though we didn’t have permission—we’ve gone through all the right channels, and we’re putting that haul road across that hillside, and we have no reason to doubt that we could get the project done in good time.”
He paused, and I wondered what was coming. I looked up and saw that he seemed really angry about something. “What’s bothering you, Charlie?” I asked him sympathetically.
“Well, you’ll never believe it. There was a falcon’s nest up on the top of that hill. You know as well as I do that the major nesting grounds of the falcons are the Franklin Bluffs and around this Happy Valley area. These ecologist creeps want to insist that the falcons along the Sag River are on the semi-extinct list, and that they can’t be disturbed at any cost. Now we find there are those two falcons nesting up there. One of the ( – - – - ) ecologists found them, and he told us we’d have to stop the whole job.”
“The whole job?—you’re not serious!” I asked. “Never more serious in my life. This creep found them, and he told us we had to stop the whole job—I mean he told us we’d have to shut down everything, with all those hundreds of men out there on the job working. That guy had the authority to tell us we couldn’t go on with our construction, even though we’d been given permits to build it this way, and we were deeply involved with hundreds of men at work.
“Don’t give me that nonsense’ I said to him. “You don’t really think we’re gonna’ stop all this work just so a falcon can sit on its eggs?’
“That’s exactly what I am saying,’ he said. This creep told me, “You can’t go on with this construction until the falcons have finished nesting.”
“Why can’t you move the (- – - -) falcon’s nest further across the mountain?” Charlie asked him. That seemed to me to be a sensible enough question.
“My job is to protect the falcons. I’ll do my job, you do yours. The road doesn’t go through until those falcons have finished nesting.” Charlie was told.
Charlie Brown looked at me, and obviously he didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. “Can you really believe it? What could I do? He’s got that big book of rules and regulations, and if I go against him not only do I lose my job, but the company gets fined, and the road doesn’t go through anyway. They have got all these rules and regulations, and the overrun is simply getting to a stage of being absurd. This is the greatest construction by man in all the history of the world—so the experts tell us—and yet some creep can tell us that we can’t build our road until two falcons have finished nesting!” “So what did you do, Charlie? Did you punch him in the nose?” I asked, with a rather un-Chaplain-like suggestion.
“No, that wouldn’t have done any good. He’s got both the Feds and the State on his side. I don’t have any choice. I had to apply for another permit and reroute the whole (- – - -) road. We couldn’t wait a month for the falcons to get through with their breeding process, so we just had no option but to reroute the whole haul road. Chaplain, we had to reroute the whole road all the way around that hill, and around the other hills, and take it away from Sag River, and then haul the gravel that much further.”
I looked at Charlie Brown, and despite the seriousness of the situation, I saw the funny side and I laughed. “Sorry, Charlie, but it’s so ridiculous I can’t help laughing.” I wiped the smile off my face and then I said more seriously, “How much do you reckon it will cost to move around those two falcons?”
“Well, I’ve actually calculated it. In order to go around that one nest, it’s going to cost the oil companies an additional $2 million dollars. What do you think of that?” I said to Charlie Brown, “Sir, wait a minute-are you telling me that because of those two falcons the oil company is going to be charged an extra $2 million dollars—$2 million dollars extra for the cost of that road—a million dollars a falcon?”
Charlie Brown nodded his head and said, “Yes, that’s correct. Two million dollars-a million dollars for each falcon.”
I could hardly believe what he said as it sank in. I said to him, “Do you think they’ll ever come back to this particular spot—are they likely to come back there
to that nest?”
“No,” he said. “Nevertheless, we can’t wait a month, and those creeps wouldn’t let us move the falcons. After all, Chaplain, that would be a national crisis, and we must salute the flag and all that, you know. So we’ll just quietly have to put up with it. Of course, when you go to fill up your car with gas, remember those two falcons—you’re going to pay those extra $2 million dollars that we had to spend to reroute the haul road to protect the two falcons on the hillside outside Happy Valley. Maybe it won’t be just you, Chaplain, but you and your friends will pay that $2 million dollars.”
I love animals and living things, and I think they should be protected, but I do think that these things can be taken to a ridiculous extreme.
Some time after this I was in the lower 48, in the middle of a series of speaking engagements across America each winter. On this occasion I stopped off in Seattle to stay with some relatives of my wife, and we were sitting at the breakfast table one morning with the radio on. I heard an editorial. I think it was three minutes long, if I remember correctly, and it was by the Sierra Club.
By this time I had been to Prudhoe Bay for one winter and two summers—a year and a half. I had seen the caribou migration, I had watched the geese and the ducks come to the North Slope by the thousands. I had seen the beauty of the tundra in the summertime, I had watched the fantastic specter of the Northern Lights, and I had enjoyed the snow in the wintertime—in fact, I love Alaska, because I’m a natural born outdoors man.
I had been very interested in all the ecology measures the oil companies were taking to protect the North Slope while they were building the Pipeline. I had, of course, noticed that they were taking extreme measures, and spending millions to protect the ecology and to safeguard the animals.
I listened to that Sierra Club editorial for about three minutes, and I heard them attempting to tell how the oil companies were destroying the ecology of the North Slope of Alaska. They made accusation after accusation after accusation. I listened intently, and then when the next program came on I remarked to the people in whose home I was staying that what had just been presented was rather odd. I reminded them that I had been in Alaska for two summers and one winter and had actually watched what took place on the North Slope of that country. I told my friends that I could not find a single accusation in that Sierra Club editorial that was true—not one.
Naturally they wanted to know more, and I told them how I had watched the caribou, animals that did not even know what a white man was, and had never seen a work camp before in their lives. I had actually watched them come through the work camp, because they had no fear of us. We could not shoot them, and we were not allowed to damage the migration pattern in any way at all. I had actually watched an entire herd of caribou walk through a Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline work camp with no fear of a human being whatever. As a matter of fact, I had actually seen them bring forth their young right on the pad at the work camp. I had watched those animals come over and actually settle down right beside the road, and swimming in pools of water and ponds and rivers. Man had never been in this area before, and the men who were there now were not damaging the wildlife in any way at that time, so the caribou had no reason to fear us
I have even watched bears walk right up to a truck that I was driving, obviously having no fear of me, because they had no natural fear of man in those areas. Man had never bothered them in this world of the caribou and the bear.
Thus I was able to substantiate my argument that there had not been one single true accusation in the entire three minutes of that radio editorial. It made me realize that the American people were being brainwashed. It became apparent that the authorities had no intention of telling the facts about Alaska and the Pipeline, and this bothered me because I very much wanted the American people to know the truth. I wanted them to know what was really happening at Prudhoe Bay. I wanted them to know that America needed leadership that would be honest with its people.
Let me state clear that I am in sympathy with some of the aims of the ecologists. I am a lover of the outdoors and certainly agree that species should be protected. However, I think that the matter had reached a point of absurdity when $2 million dollars was spent rather than removing the nest of a falcon. In view of the many other frustrating experiences which the oil companies endured, it is very difficult to reject the conclusion that there were deliberate efforts to cause costs to be raised to the highest point that was possible. We shall substantiate that view as we proceed.