June 2023, Vol. 250, No. 6

Editor's Notebook

See You at the Movies … OK, Probably Not

By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief

(P&GJ) — I don’t go to movie theaters all that often anymore, and when I do the films that I see don’t tend to have anything to do with my job.  

That’s at least in part because I see movies as a means of escaping my daily routine, but now that I think about there just aren’t a lot of theatrical releases that involved pipelines. 

I guess one could argue that “Giant” was at least about the industry to some extent, but that film was upstream-specific and came out years before my cinema-visiting days began. 

At any rate, about a week ago I went to see a movie not-so affectionately called, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.” As you probably guessed from the title, it was not exactly a love letter to the industry either. 

The movie’s release took place without much fanfare, and had I not been involved with midstream for a little over a decade now, I’m reasonably sure I would still not know it existed. I guarantee I would not have had any interest in seeing it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed it when things blow up at the movies: cars, banks, far-off galaxies, etc. Pipelines, though? That seems like a stretch, and not a particularly amusing one. (That only one other person was in the theater when I attended was not surprising.)

Still, the title alone, and the fact that I must admit this was an effectively executed action-suspense film – along the lines of a cheaply done “Ocean’s 11” or “The Great Escape” – requires a more serious look at its possible repercussions. 

The fictional story, which takes place in West Texas, centers on a group of people from different walks of life, who band together for a variety of reasons, and decide to blow up a pipeline. You already know the muddled thinking behind arriving at this decision – you’ve heard it before. 

A couple of the would-be terrorists even provided a few reasons not to blow up a pipeline, most of which involve the hardships such an action would cause for the underprivileged and the effect their actions would have on global markets. Cooler heads, of course, lost the argument, or there would be no movie. 

As I mentioned earlier, the story here is reasonably well told for a work of fiction. Fortunately, from a midstream safety perspective, there are a lot of things that just don’t add up.  

As a result – a fortunate result, at that –  I just don’t think “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” serves as a particularly good primer on how to blow up a pipeline or anything else. It is more likely to result in someone blowing up their garage  while trying to make a bomb or going to prison for an incredibly long time. 

That said, the release of the film should serve as a reminder that we in midstream must remain vigilant regarding safety. 

Suzanne Ogle, CEO of the Southern Gas Association, passed along the following tips for keeping us all safe when the film, which she strongly condemned as irresponsible, was released: 

Tip 1: If you see something, say something. It sounds basic enough but serves as one of the most powerful safety tools in our toolbox. Know who to contact about suspicious activities and give employees knowledge of what other actions they should take.  

Tip 2: Stay calm and evaluate your foundation for safety. Assess the perimeter – evaluate your surveillance practices, lighting and access to your worksite or physical plant. Surveillance can be enhanced through better technology; lighting can be checked regularly to make sure fixtures are in good working condition; controls at all ingress and egress locations can be tested frequently – this may include locks and badging systems and other such precautions. 

Tip 3: Control what you can control. While we cannot control all the threats or hazards that we sometimes face. However, we can take a step back to assess the likelihood of potential risk. A helpful resource for risk assessment is the “Pipeline Security Smart Practice Observations,” issued by the TSA. 

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