I slowly walked the perimeter of the pit, scanning the integrity of the tank’s shell and its adjoined pipes, searching for my leak. The hulking cylinder --like all four-hundred and thirty nine of her sisters-- presented me with 25 feet of length to examine. Mystery Lady continued to stand passively back and just watch me as I carried out my examination. I eventually made it to the far end where the input/output ports sat in an orderly grid-work of pipes and valves. And there was my leak, right at the seam between valve and tank.
It was a fast drip. While not yet a free-flowing trickle, it would be soon. And if an influx of new oil delivered under pressure were to get pumped into that tank, it would easily burst forth and start spraying everywhere. As for the valve itself, it was fortunately one of the valves not currently affixed with any pipes. So it sat there closed and pipeless, like the nipple of a curbside fire hydrant with no fire hoses attached. I checked the tank’s oil gage: it was well over three quarters full. That meant that at that very moment, thousand of pounds of weight from the more than four-thousand gallons of oil still left in the tank were bearing down on that leak like an elephant balancing atop the creaking and fraying ropes of a backyard hammock. I studied the path of the overhead pipes leading into and away from the tank, and I could see that some pipes connected with neighboring tanks while other pipes independently tracked back toward the wall where Mystery Lady and I first started out.
“I have a question,” I called out to her. In response she quietly stepped forth from her hands-off stance and patiently waited. “Are these tanks connected to each other?”
“Yes and no,” was her reply.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if I wanted to connect them, I would need to manually open all the valves throughout the network of short-length pipes that physically lie in between them all. Which could take days for one person to do. But at the moment all the short-length valves are closed and so the tanks are completely isolated from each other.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes. My husband made sure of it, and he very firmly instructed me never to attempt to open those connections.”
“You know why I’m asking this question, don’t you?” I asked, certain she was smart enough to know at least part of the answer. And much to my delight, she did:
“Yes,” she nodded. “You’re worried that if one tank leaks, then all of the tanks will leak through that one leak and flood the whole room.”
I was impressed enough already with just that simple answer. And then she blew my doors off when she added:
“My husband also warned me that sometimes an unintentional siphoning reaction can get triggered during a situation with a leak of this nature when the leaking tank is connected to others. He said under the right circumstances, the leaking tank can act like a giant drinking straw, sucking the additional contents of any neighboring tanks into the stream of the leak. So I can assure you that these valves are all closed.”
“That’s good to hear. Meanwhile, are any of these other tanks empty enough so’s I can divert the oil from the leaking tank into them?”
“No. They’re all filled to capacity.” She paused in timid fear then asked: “… Is that a problem?”
“Not necessarily. There're ways around that, depending on the tools you’ve got. So this might be a good time to see what kind of equipment you have on hand.”
She nodded with a hint of relief and led me back toward the elevators and beneath the catwalk. But once under the catwalk we bypassed the elevators and turned left, heading along the wall, under the catwalk, toward my imaginary football field’s end zone, to about the 20-yard line. There we found a double set of metal fire doors. She opened the doors and hit a light switch. Within those doors sat a large workroom of professional pipefitting equipment draped with plastic drop cloths. It was relatively new and all very good stuff. I was stunned at the impeccable quality of it all, as well as the excellent condition and orderliness of the room. It was a pipefitter’s dream.
“Jesus!” I whispered.
“Is it not okay?” she sounded worried.
“No!” I sputtered. “It’s fantastic! Looks like you got everything!”
“Do you need me for anything else right now?”
“Long as the power’s on and all the equipment works, I’ll be fine.”
“Well then, I’ll be in the control room doing computer work. I’ll leave the control room windows open. That way I can hear you. So just give me a shout if you need anything.” With a pleasant nod she exited, leaving me alone in the very best plumber’s shop I had seen since plumbing school. I was now a kid in a toy store.
-------------------End of Chapter 6-d--------------------