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Lindsey Williams – The Energy Non-Crisis – Chapter 9

Chapter 9: How About An Outhouse for $10,000 (Extra for the Mercedes Engine, Of Course!)

There were some rather odd paradoxes in the matter of toilet facilities at Prudhoe Bay, and although the subject matter of this chapter may seem a bit crude (even though we have discussed the subject as delicately as possible), it is necessary to show to what extent excess expense was forced upon the oil companies, adding daily to the tremendous budget overruns.

At first it was official policy to hire only men on the pipeline, it being thought that the rough and tough life that was common to the pipeline was not for women. Then that policy was changed and a number of women, of every age, were allowed in as workers. There were no separate facilities for women for the first few months, so they had to live in the same dorms as the men, even using the same bathrooms.

The dormitories were built so that 52 men were in a unit, there being two to a room, and the restrooms were in the center. I admit it was somewhat of a surprise to me one day to be in the bathroom and notice under the next door a pair of lady’s shoes. Apparently it did not embarrass the lady, for she seemed to act as though that was a most natural thing for her to be there, to come out to wash her hands, and then to go on her way. That was life on the Pipeline for some time. You never even knew if the person in the shower stall beside you was a man or a woman.

Obviously sex was an important subject at the Pipeline, even when women were not present. There were some places, such as storehouses, where you simply could not look at any point on the wall without sex symbols being depicted. I remember one day when I was out with Senator Hugh Chance and our truck broke down. We had to wait a couple of hours in a room that was about 70 feet long and 40 feet across. Both walls were completely papered with nudes, from all the pornographic magazines that found their way to Prudhoe Bay. We were there for two hours—there was nowhere else to go, and about the only way to avoid seeing the pornography was to lie down and go to sleep.

Eventually the women had their own dorms, but one could not help sensing that they were not especially embarrassed by sharing the common facilities. The men, in general, had little respect for the women, even though some were decent and respectable. The building of these extra dorms was, of course, an extra expenditure that had not been anticipated at the beginning of the project.

The environmentalists had some weird ideas regarding human waste disposal while the Pipeline was being constructed. The oil companies were forced to use a Hercules aircraft to remove human waste off the slope to Anchorage. The Hercules is a massive four-engined aircraft, able to cart something like 48,000 pounds as a usual load. The tail opens up and the cargo can be loaded. Human excreta was loaded onto Hercules aircraft and tanked all the way to Anchorage, 800 miles away.

As it happened, the sewage system was not operating correctly at Anchorage at that time, so this excreta was dumped into the ocean. The sewage at Anchorage went directly into the inlet because the sewage system was not working effectively—there had been some massive problems with it, and the scheme itself was abandoned for a time.

At first thought, the use of a Hercules for this purpose seems incredible, but it is true. The oil companies were forced to take that human excreta from the slopes where there was virtually nobody living. Out there the excreta could do nothing but fertilize the ground, without having an effect on human beings at all, but the companies were forced to haul it down to Anchorage anyway. Well-placed officials made it clear that it would have been far more sensible to set up designated areas where the waste could be dumped, and then all that would happen would be that the grass would grow, the caribou would be fed, and there would be no problem of the sewage being dumped into the inlet at Anchorage. Obviously large numbers of people could be affected by the foolishness of disposing of the waste in the way it was done, but the ecologists were adamant.

This was not an isolated incident. There were other places where the human excreta had to be tanked into Hercules aircraft and taken away from the slope—another example being in association with the building of the Gilbert Lake Camp and the road in that area. One estimate was that it cost $6,500 for one round trip by Hercules to get rid of a load of human excreta. Anchorage was not the only place that benefited from this type of unwelcome deposit: Fairbanks was another, and it is now said that Fairbanks has the most unsanitary landfill in all the world. This waste was dumped into the river nearby, and it simply washes off.

There were loudly voiced protests that these were deliberate ways to make the oil companies spend large sums of money unnecessarily, and the fact is that evidence suggests there is much truth in such assertions. The money that was wasted is almost incredible. Millions of dollars were being spent on mobile sewage treatment plants so that the human waste could be carted from the drilling rigs and camps. Samples were sent to the State authorities regularly, and they insisted that tests were run to make sure that the ground itself was not contaminated with human excreta—excreta that, after all, would simply make the grass grow.

The controls were not limited to the Federal government, for State regulations were also very stringent. One of the regulations specifically states that all incinerators shall meet the requirements of Federal and State laws and regulations, and maximum precautions will be taken. Human waste is included in the discarded matter that must be gotten rid of, and it is specifically stated that, after incineration, the material that is not consumed by the incinerators shall be disposed of “in a manner approved in writing by the authorized officer.” The State officials decided that the bacterial tanks in use that were fed with air were not acceptable. So they got some long white paper, set the bacterial action going, and whatever was left over was picked up on the paper that was rolled slowly through the water. This then went into a little incinerator and was burned. The ashes were taken to the sanitary landfill and they were buried.

In other words, the incinerator was really a kind of an outhouse. A diesel rig was used, and for a 35-man camp approximately 50 gallons of diesel were used each day. Remember, this was at a time when there was supposed to be a diesel crisis, and it was very difficult to get diesel fuel for jet planes. Because of manipulation, diesel was hard to obtain, and yet the State insisted that human excreta be burned up in this way. A Mercedes Benz engine was used, and it took approximately 350 gallons of diesel each week to run it.

As one highly respected official said, “Those Mercedes Benz engines are burning up 350 gallons of diesel every week just to get rid of human waste which the tundra desperately needs.” He went on, “They do things like this in a very wasteful manner—such as using up 100 pounds of propane every three days, just to get rid of some human turds—why, ever since life began you simply put it on the ground and it makes the grass grow. Now suddenly it’s supposed to kill the grass—I haven’t figured that one out yet.”

These things are not hearsay. We are not giving rumors or secondhand material.

Let me tell you about one day I personally investigated a $10,000 outhouse. I had set out one day to go out to a work-site, riding with one of the engineers at Franklin Bluffs Camp. I often got in the trucks and rode all day with one or another of the men, in order to be out where the men were. I wanted to be right on the work-site and to find out as much as I could. I was anxious to share with men in real life situations and not simply to see them on my terms. I had executive privileges, and so I was free to come and go as I liked.

I enjoyed the drive out with this engineer, and, of course, we talked at length about many aspects of this fantastic project. The engineers are often proud to tell you that they are engaged in what is believed to be the greatest engineering project ever undertaken by man, in all the history of the world. They believed in
what they were doing, but over and over again they were frustrated by the limitations set upon them, by the endless regulations that are so often needlessly enforced. They believed there were deliberate efforts to slow down the project and to escalate its cost.

So on this particular day I was riding with this engineer out from Franklin Bluffs. There was one of those outhouses out on the job site, in the middle of nowhere.

I turned to my engineer friend and I said, “Hey, you mean they even have to have privies up here in the middle of nowhere? That tundra surely needs manure—it would be a good idea to fertilize it. After all, there are lots of animals coming through here, and I haven’t heard of anyone trying to put diapers on the caribou yet.”

“Well,” the engineer answered, “We don’t dare drop any waste up here, even though the men will be here only a few weeks. According to the government officials we must not fertilize the tundra, because that might not be good for it. We’ve been instructed to put outhouses every so many miles up and down the haul road of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, and to have one for every so many men.”

I looked at him, hardly able to believe my ears. Here we were out in the middle of nowhere, and intelligent people, products of Western Civilization in the 20th Century, were seriously suggesting that high quality outhouses must be put up at regular points. I chuckled and said to the engineer, “Hey, that’s interesting—how in the world could they have an outhouse out in the middle of nowhere? After all, everyone that goes in it would freeze.”

“No,” the engineer answered. “Reverend, you won’t believe how much that outhouse costs—the very one you’re looking at over there.”

I looked across in the general direction he was nodding to. “Well,” I said, “we used to build outhouses for nothing—we’d use scrap lumber on the farm.” The engineer nodded. “Yes, that’s what you’d do back on the farm, and that was the sensible thing to do, but we’re not allowed to do that up here. We can’t even dig any holes in this tundra to put an outhouse on—we are told that that would destroy the ecology. The regulation is that we must have these special outhouses hauled in.”

I was finding it hard to believe my ears. Here was a highly intelligent man telling me that officialdom was of such a nature that apparently huge sums of money must be spent on these “special” outhouses.

I turned to the engineer and asked, “Well, what’s so special about them?”

He answered, “The first thing that is special about them is that they cost $10,000 each.” I looked at him in surprise. “Wait a minute, sir,” I interrupted, “You’re talking about an outhouse—you’re not talking about buying a Mercedes Benz.”

Then he gave me a smile. “As a matter of fact, that outhouse has a Mercedes Benz diesel engine on it. When I said $10,000, I didn’t mean the engine—that’s extra, of course.”

“Come on now, explain it to me. What’s all this nonsense you’re trying to put over?”

The engineer assured me it was not nonsense. He said, “You see, that’s an entire self-contained incinerator unit, and if ever you saw the black smoke coming out of the stack of that thing, and then you smelled the aroma, you’d really know what contamination was. It surely is contaminating the air, and the whole ecology, too.”

“How does the incineration process work?” I asked. “Well,” the engineer answered, “When a man does his business in that outhouse, it goes down to the bottom, and that diesel engine automatically cranks up. By electrical and other means it completely incinerates everything.” He pointed to a pipe that came out from the outhouse. “It shoots out that pipe up there, and as a result it’s not supposed to contaminate anything. Well, I can only say it certainly contaminates my nostrils all the time.”

Right then I knew that my own nostrils were being contaminated in no uncertain way, and while I was there I always knew when someone was “Doing his business.” I found myself annoyed at the idea of a diesel engine automatically cranking up for such a purpose. I must confess, too, that whenever I go to the gas pumps and buy fuel, I remember that my own pocketbook has been contaminated—contaminated by those outhouses at $10,000 each, plus the cost of the Mercedes Benz engine, of course!

$10,000 (plus) for an outhouse with a Mercedes Benz engine thrown in? Just because they didn’t want to fertilize the tundra! This was bureaucracy gone mad. For what purpose? We shall answer that question as we proceed.

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