Thursday, June 4, 2009

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 6-f

The following is a draft of Chapter 6-f of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

After wheeling the cart out of the workroom and through the tank array, I set to work on the leak. I first had to load a new valve down into the gun-like barrel of the navel piercer. That very clever barrel -- an “open barrel” of long metal rods that could be seen through -- was the key to how the navel piercer worked. The upper-tip of my now-loaded barrel next had to be screwed onto the leaking valve much like a fire fighter affixes a hose to a fire hydrant. When I was certain it was firmly screwed onto the threads of the old and leaking valve, I raised the rifle-like butt of the navel piercer to my shoulder, took a deep breath and put my hand onto the trigger.

I squeezed.

A narrow rod shot straight up the barrel, out through the new valve and up into the leaking valve, accompanied by a noise like a loud pop-gun -- a noise which I not only heard but also felt reverberate through my shoulder. What it had done was it shot a butterfly valve into the tank’s leaking valve, and that butterfly was now inside there completely isolating the valve from the thousands of gallons of oil. The amount of pressure needed to ram that butterfly into a tank full of oil, fast enough to prevent any oil from seeping out was many tons per square inch. I waited a few moments and saw that the steady drip-drip-drip of oil suddenly ceased, indicating a perfect vacuum seal was now in place in there. I smiled -- I had done it correctly! (But I wasn’t finished yet.)

Then I activated a second feature of that nifty toy which was to suction all residual oil out of the butterfly’s isolation cavity, and that oil amounted to less than a gallon. After no more oil came out of the suction tube I was confident there was nothing left but a pure vacuum in the isolation cavity. Next I employed another trick from the wide arsenal of bells and whistles that the navel piercer offered: I injected a specially-formulated flame retardant into the butterfly cavity which would prevent any microscopic traces of oil left behind from igniting as I worked. Then I took out a pair of insulated gloves, a blow torch and a mask, and started to blow torch the valve right off of the tank. The metal rods of the open barrel -- still screwed onto the valve -- were oblivious to the heat of my blow torch due to the exotic metal alloy of their composition. It was some new-fangled space age material, developed God knows where, able to withstand temperatures of over four-thousand degrees Fahrenheit. Thus I effortlessly assailed the valve with metal-melting heat while the navel piercer’s barrel remained firmly in place, unharmed as it hung securely from the hidden butterfly within. That state-of-the-art material used in the manufacture of the barrel was more than half the reason why a navel piercer cost so damned much money.

I literally blowtorched the valve to pieces -- deliberately tiny pieces. And with my heat resistant gloves I removed each broken charred piece from the open barrel of the navel piercer, slipping them one at a time out from between the long rods like a dentist removing the broken pieces of a thoroughly decayed molar. Once the last chunk of dead valve was gone I beheld the hole in the side of the tank where the valve used to be. I could now see the butterfly inside the hole, clumps of congealed flame retardant clinging to it, and I knew that butterfly was holding back thousands of pounds per square inch of oil. Then I slid the new valve up the barrel of the navel piercer, affixed it to the hole, screwed the fire hydrant-like threads of the valve against the barrel’s upper-tip, and began to weld the valve into place. When I was done welding, I suctioned out the flame retardant to empty the cavity again.

The last neat trick that the navel piercer provided for me was to inject into the cavity another chemical which was literally an antibiotic, although not of medical grade and certainly not for human consumption. The antibiotic would kill any bacteria in the cavity, an important measure to prevent future rust and thus future leaks. Most oil tank leaks were caused by a small yet growing colony of bacteria -- typically floating within the tank on a layer of water -- which would slowly erode the tank’s metal over time and achieve a pinhole or two or worse.

And now my final task was to collapse the unseen butterfly, releasing the full weight of the oil against the new valve, thus putting the strength of my weld to the test. Would my weld hold? Would the oil slam its weight against the weld, break through, and come spurting out like the proverbial hole in the dike?

I took a deep breath, pulled the trigger, and my shoulder again felt the powerful explosion of ten tons of air pressure shoot into the butterfly, forcing it to fold itself up. Then with the now-closed butterfly still inside the tank, and with the barrel of the navel piercer still screwed against the new valve, I waited. The weld job held. I again smiled and exhaled that breath I was still holding. I unthreaded the barrel from the new valve, extracted the butterfly with just a few drips of oil, and examined my work. My new valve was securely in place and would do its job of holding the oil for years to come.

I stood back and stretched my arms fiercely with a broad grin and a very loud yawn. Twenty thousand dollars never felt so good. All that remained now was to pump the spilled oil out of the pit and back up into the tank again. I glanced at my watch: nearly ten PM. Thank God tomorrow was Saturday.

I finished my stretching and was about to pick up the small portable oil pump --about the size of a toaster-- from the work cart, when I heard Mystery Lady’s voice echo down in a strong shout from above: “Are you okay?” (I guess she heard me stretching.)

I stepped sideways to get into view of the control room. She and her brown velvet hat with the coral colored flower were leaning out an open widow awaiting my reply.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her. “I finished replacing the valve. Leaks’s all fixed. Now I just gotta pump all the spilled oil back up into the tank.”

“Excellent! You wanna take a break while the oil is pumping?”

“Sure,” I nodded with a smile much friendlier than I intended.

-------------------End of Chapter 6-f--------------------