Login/Sign up

World Association of International Studies

Post The Northeast Passage: Climate Change and Shipping
Created by John Eipper on 02/20/19 2:59 AM

Previous posts in this discussion:


The Northeast Passage: Climate Change and Shipping (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 02/20/19 2:59 am)

Answering the kind question of our esteemed moderator JE about my thoughts on "what might have been" if the project of damming the Mediterranean had been carried out, my answer is very short: It could never have been.

The project was never more than a fascinating fantasy.

However there is another serious project that bothers me.

In the Middle Ages the Italian Sea Republics of Venice, Genoa, Ragusa (now Dubrovnik), and Pisa and Amalfi which later fell before the other three, dominated the Mediterranean Sea, and through commerce with the East they became richer and richer. Then with the opening of the Atlantic to commerce, Italy started to decline and its disunity, mainly thanks to the presence of the Papal temporal power, favored the dominions of France, Spain and Austria.

Thanks to the newly renewed Suez Canal with a maximum permitted draft of 20.1 meters, the Mediterranean is again the passage of commerce from Asia toward Europe, but for how long?

With climate change the Arctic ice is melting and the lines of commerce from the Far East to Europe may begin to use the Northeast Passage.

In the Arctic there are three passages: the Northwest among the Canadian islands, the Northeast along the coasts of Russia, and finally the Pole Passage, the shortest but the most difficult because of the thick ice.

In 2017 the Russian-owned but Cyprus-flagged icebreaker LPG Supertanker Cristophe de Margerie (length 299 meters, width 50 meters, draft 11.2 meters), sailed from Hammerfest (Norway) to Borejeong (South Korea) in only 19 days, 30% less time then going through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal.

To be honest the Arctic route may not be realized in the short term.  Let's see some obstacles:

1) in 2017 the NE passage was used by only 27 ships totaling 513,676 tons, while 17,550 ships totaling 1041 million tons passed through the Suez.

2) In a few sections of the passage the waters are shallow. For instance the Dimitrij Leptev Strait has only 11 meters of water, and therefore large modern ships with a large drafts cannot pass. To avoid the Dimitrij Leptev Strait it would be necessary to move into the potentially dangerous waters farther north.

3) Insurance premiums are very high.

4) The traffic is seasonally limited.

5) The passage is in Russian areas and under Russian authority. For safety, Russian tugs, icebreakers and pilotage may be imposed, all of which increases costs.

6) Political problems especially in a period of Cold War. For the NW passage there is dispute between Canada and the US, for the former the passage is inside Canadian waters, but for the latter the passage should be considered as passing through international waters.

The Arctic has been from the time of the SSN 571 "Nautilus" an area accessible to submarines powered by nuclear power and armed with nuclear missiles. Russia seems by now more interested arming the Arctic, but the US of late is also moving more aggressively.

JE comments:  I had never thought of this effect of climate change:  a major shift in international shipping.  Northern port cities certainly stand to benefit.  And one can assume the situation of polar wildlife (bears?) will become ever more precarious.

Rate this post
Informational value 
Reader Ratings (0)
Informational value0%

Visits: 170


Please login/register to reply or comment: Login/Sign up

  • A Summer Sail Through the Arctic (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 02/20/19 2:26 PM)
    I spent last summer in the Arctic myself, sailing to Northeast Greenland from Cowes, Isle of Wight, via the Orkney Islands, Faroe Islands, and East Coast of Iceland.

    We sailed as far as we could before being stopped by sea ice--up to 71N, a couple of hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, and we sailed all the way back into the back of the vast fjord system called Scorseby Sund, through largely uncharted waters, to the edge of the Inland Ice Cap, almost 200 nautical miles of sailing from the entrance.

    I can say that it is quite visible that the glaciers are retreating--we walked on land which possibly no human has stepped on ever, which had been until recently under a glacier. But the waters were icy, and we were stopped by fast ice from getting all the way around Milne Land.  It is not obvious that the sea will be ice-free any time soon. The navigation is extremely hazardous and difficult, and it's hard to imagine that the Arctic is going to replace the Suez Canal as a sea route any time soon. There is a lot of talk in maritime circles about the perspectives of using the Northern sea routes, but the NE Passage passes through some of the most remote areas in the world, and by the time a shipowner pays for insurance to cover the greatly increased hazards, it is pretty hard for me to imagine that it will be worthwhile in many cases. I was not able to acquire insurance for my boat for the trip last summer for blood nor money; so I was fully at risk. I think what shipping has transited the Northern routes, has done so just as proof of concept.

    As to the polar bears--we were required by the Greenlandic authorities to be armed at all times, as the bears are hungry and have no fear of humans. It is said that they are getting trapped on land because the ice breaks up earlier, so they are deprived of their usual hunting for seals from ice floes. We met a horribly maimed Inuit who claimed to have fought off an attacking polar bear--in his own house!--with his bare hands, with a punch in the nose. We saw fresh tracks here and there, and were frightened, but the only actual polar bear we saw, was swimming in the sea miles from shore, a surprising sight.

    JE comments:  So glad Eugenio Battaglia brought up the Arctic, as it inspired Cameron Sawyer to treat us to a splendid adventure.  Cameron, do you have photos to share with the WAISitudes?  I'd also love to know more about your stopover in Greenland, long near the top of my Bucket List.

    Extreme waters--Endhó and now the Arctic--have become the Topic of the Day for February 20th, which is otherwise a sad date for WAIS.  It was twelve years ago today that Prof. Hilton passed away.

    Please login/register to reply or comment:

    • A Summer Sail Through the Arctic: Photos (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 02/21/19 3:18 AM)
      JE:  Cameron Sawyer sent these spectacular photos to accompany his "Summer Sail Through the Arctic" piece of February 20th.  Enjoy!  I'm going to guess the location of the third image.  Cameron, is it Scoresby Sund?  Whatever its name, it's breathtaking, and stark, and frightening.
      Please login/register to reply or comment:

    • Environmental Dangers of Arctic Shipping (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/23/19 3:53 AM)
      First of all my heartfelt congratulations to Cameron Sawyer for his epic voyage on a small sailing boat in the Arctic. You can bet that this is not at all child's play.

      Our esteemed moderator is rightly concerned about the impact on the environment following the opening of the Arctic to shipping. Probably few "terrestrials" are aware that shipping is a very polluting industry.

      Until 1970 all oil remaining inside the tanks of the tankers after discharging the cargo was pumped into the sea when washing the tanks.

      Then a fantastic invention was developed: crude-oil washing. While discharging, special hoses are used to spray the same crude oil inside the tanks, washing the bulkheads. The small amount of oil remained as "slop" is discharged at a loading port or mingled with the new cargo. This is a laborious procedure that must be carried out with great care.

      The ships use a combustible bunker fuel with up to 3.5% sulfur, but while maneuvering in proximity of a loading/discharge port they use a diesel with 0.5% of sulfur. After 2020, such 0.5% will be compulsory at all times.

      Anyway, this diesel fuel is still polluting. Therefore there is a push to use gas, but the transformation of the engines from diesel to gas is very expensive. Moreover few ports have a gas supply for vessels. In the Arctic the pollution with new shipping lanes will be terrible. On top of this, the exploitation of the resources on the bottom of the seas may produce catastrophes. Not only are polar bears in danger, but all biological systems.

      Another thing of which the "terrestrials" are generally unaware is the great danger caused by water ballast.

      After discharging the cargo a ship cannot sail empty but she needs to fill her ballast tanks with sea water. Even if said tanks have not been contaminated by oil, the sea water entering is generally polluted water from the port, containing germs, bacteria, viruses, and small fish which will be discharged at the loading port or during the voyage in case of a change of ballast due to weather conditions. In such a way, sea life is transferred from one area to another, causing problems.

      In 1991 an epidemic of cholera developed in Peru and it was caused by the polluted ballast picked up in an East Asia port.

      Theoretically all residual waters used on board a ship for domestic use should be collected, treated, and then discharged, but the plants very seldom work properly.  Perhaps they work on the great liners.

      Also, all the rubbish should now be collected and discharged on shore in special facilities, but here again, how many crews are strictly abiding?

      Moreover, underwater hulls quickly become covered with sea life, producing a slowdown of the vessel. To combat this, a poison is added to the paint but this poison also goes into the sea killing life. In 2001 the International Maritime Organization declared the prohibition of the TBT tributylin because of its deadly effects, but other paint may be hazardous too.  Each year more or less, the hull of a ship is scraped or sandblasted in dry dock, and the waste products if not (too often) properly cared for is extremely dangerous.

      The noise of the ship, especially of her propeller(s), is very dangerous for sea life. This is evident in the mass death of whales, dolphins etc. on the beaches.

      All the above is what happens when everything is going well, but a catastrophic discharge of oil is always possible. In the Arctic the problem will be even more severe, as the cold temperatures make containment and cleaning far more difficult. But also the container ships present the possibility of containers containing hazardous materials may fall into the sea in rough weather.

      Now on goats. I had the pleasure to fly with two goats and some chickens in a cage from Addis Ababa to Djibouti. The Aircraft was a Dakota DC3, and it was a very nice trip, as the plane flew low and I could see the villages with their tukuls and the beautiful Ambas, unfortunately not the Amba Aradam, more Northward, where in February 1936 the greatest battle was fought between the Italian Army including the brave Blackshirts with the Colonial Ascari, and the Abyssinian Army with their European instructors. The Ethiopians were excellent soldiers but completely disregarded the International Conventions. This fact led to some Italian retaliations.

      To indicate a complicated, rough situation, Italians still say "It is an ambaradan."  But almost nobody knows the origin of the expression, as in the new Italian lay, democratic, antifascist republic borne from the resistance speaking of the Ethiopian war is taboo.

      JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia's post is a real eye-opener for this landlubber.  I had to look up "amba," and they are Ethiopia's high mesetas, which were ideal for constructing fortifications.  See below.  Western Cuba has its "mogotes," which look the same but green.

      Please login/register to reply or comment:

      • A Note on Noxious Effluent (John Heelan, UK 02/24/19 4:48 AM)
        Every few months, we on the Isle of Wight are assailed by noxious fumes emitted from liquid gas tankers moored in St. Helens Roads just off the Island. (See Eugenio Battaglia, 23 February.)

        The local gas board is now so used to phone calls reporting widespread gas leaks that they tend to get ignored and Islanders are reassured via the local grapevines.

        Another noxious effluent comes from outgoing major cruise liners pumping their toilets that often end up on our beaches. As some of them carry several thousand passengers.

        JE comments: 41,057 WAIS posts, and this is the first one titled "Noxious Effluent"!  Earlier today we saw "awww."  Now with John Heelan's comment, we'll have to go with "ewww" (to offend the taste of, to repel).

        Are cruise ships allowed to discharge their wastewater in the sea?  As people are wont to say, shouldn't there be a law against that...?

        Please login/register to reply or comment:

        • Cruise Ship Effluent (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 02/25/19 3:40 AM)
          John Heelan wrote on February 24th: "Another noxious effluent comes from outgoing major cruise liners pumping their toilets that often end up on our [Isle of Wight] beaches. As some of them carry several thousand passengers."

          That would be a gross violation of MARPOL regulations, which require ships to be at least 12 miles offshore before dumping any sewage. The kind of violation which can draw fines of tens of millions of pounds.

          And cruise ships, furthermore, have waste treatment plants which ensure that waste is disinfected and treated before discharging overboard.

          See: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/what-happens-when-you-flush-the-loo-on-a-cruise-ship-/

          Any sewage on Isle of Wight beaches comes from discharge of untreated sewage from land, something which occurs by design during heavy rain. Some may come from recreational boats, which in the UK (unlike in the US) are not required to have any holding tanks, but the quantity will be microscopic compared to what is discharged from land.

          JE comments:  The Independent article is very informative.  The big cruise ships use bacteria and UV radiation to discharge wastewater that is supposedly cleaner than seawater itself.  Ships have an environmental officer to monitor the process.  However, there's still the troubling issue that raw sewage is permissible on the High Seas (more than twelve miles off shore).

          So how about trains?  East-Bloc trains in the Old Days had toilets that merely emptied onto the tracks.  You could see the "daylight" and moving ground under the drain when flushing.  Signs warned you not to use the loo when the train was in the station.  Yuck.  Is this still the practice?

          Please login/register to reply or comment:

          • Shipping Effluent on Island of Wight (John Heelan, UK 02/25/19 6:26 AM)
            Cameron Sawyer (February 25th) quotes MARPOL as a protection against effluents discharged from cruise ships.

            As always, one should also look at the impact of those effluents on holiday areas, especially given the many excellent beaches that the Island boats. However, the evidence is that the kite-mark for such beaches (the Award of a Blue Flag qualification guaranteeing clean water and other safety measures) is that Island beaches have failed the award tests over the last two years and no Blue Flags have been awarded. Part of this is due to the local authority no longer seeking such cleanliness awards.

            Cameron is correct that much of the pollution arrives from the mainland via very long outflows--a pollution that is threatening the Solent oyster beds and maritime conservation areas. The local water company (Southern Water) published a report recently on the steps it is taking to reduce pollution.

            As Cameron correctly points out, recreational boats (and residential houseboats) are not compelled to have anti-pollution measures. As a result, our local harbour suffers badly on this measure with daily evidence of pollution winding up on pristine beaches.

            JE comments:  John, do you mean "boats" or "boasts (of)"?  Both are clearly the case for your beautiful island, if we take "boats" here as a verb.

            Another question:  are there (permanent) houseboats on the Isle of Wight, Sausalito-style?  If they pump their filth into the water, that must get quite nasty.

            Please login/register to reply or comment:

          • Pump and Dump on the "USS Constellation" (Michael Sullivan, USA 02/25/19 11:04 AM)

            I can remember many years ago in 1982, which is the last time I operated off an aircraft carrier at night, that after flight ops had concluded the ship's 1MC would come on and announce, "Constellation now commencing pump and dump operations."

            I believe the US Navy regulations then were they had to be 50 nautical miles at sea to conduct pump and dump ops.  The effluent and garbage pumped and dumped in those days had no treatment to my knowledge, but I'm sure regulations today require sophisticated machinery aboard US Navy ships to treat all the various waste products properly before disposing of them at sea.

            JE comments:  The Constellation (aircraft carrier) was scrapped in Brownsville, Texas, a few years back.  Michael, this must be a very painful moment for someone who served aboard.  It's a shame these ships cannot be preserved as floating museums.  The obstacle, of course, is cost.

            Please login/register to reply or comment:

            • Aircraft Carriers I Served On (Michael Sullivan, USA 02/26/19 5:30 AM)
              I flew from six different carriers during my career. In 1956 I started out qualifying on the Saipan CVL-28, a WWII jeep carrier, for my first carrier landings as a Naval Aviation Cadet and we were flying WWII prop-type aircraft. My next carrier and on future carriers I was flying F-4 Phantoms aboard the FDR CV-42 and it was a Midway-class carrier.  Then three Forrestal carriers:  Forrestal CV-59, Independence CV-62 and Ranger CV-61. I ended up on the Constellation CV-64 which is a Kitty Hawk-class carrier. After that most every carrier built was nuclear powered and designated CVN.

              I started out with deck-launched, normal take-offs in props, then moved on to hydraulic catapults on FDR, and then Forrestal and Kitty Hawk carriers had steam catapults. Today our newest carrier, USS Gerald Ford, has an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and is considered a super carrier with all the latest technology and has been designated the new Ford-class carrier. My last carrier was the Constellation CV-64 (now decommissioned as all the carriers I flew from are) and now the Ford is CVN-78 and I understand they're going to build two more CVNs. There are currently 11 aircraft carriers in service/active duty with the US Navy, but a few are in dry dock a year to two out of service plus others go in for modifications.  The newest carriers are still doing sea trials.

              It doesn't bother me to see the older carriers scrapped or made into reefs as it's like an old car.  As soon as you get a newer model you immediately begin to like it and enjoy its new technologies, overall newness and smoother handling.

              We do have five decommissioned aircraft carriers as floating museums. They are Yorktown CV-10 Charleston, SC, Intrepid CV-11 NYC, Hornet CV-12 Alameda, CA, Lexington CV-16 Corpus Christie, TX and Midway CV-41, San Diego.  The problem is many cities would like an aircraft carrier as a museum to draw tourists and enhance the harbor area but their harbors are too shallow to be able to accept a carrier with such deep draft requirements.

              JE comments:  Michael, I should stop pestering you with questions, but every post you send makes me want more.  Can you share with us earthlings the feeling of being launched (hydraulically, electromagnetically, or "steamually") from a carrier platform?  I can imagine nothing beyond "whoosh" and "Holy Crap!"

              Please login/register to reply or comment:

              • Ever Been Shot Out of a Cannon? Try an Aircraft Carrier (Michael Sullivan, USA 03/01/19 7:29 AM)
                John E asked me to describe the sensation of being launched from an aircraft carrier.

                The hydraulic catapult was a hard kick in the "butt" when being shot, as it forced the pilot's head and body back against the headrest/seat back on the ejection seat as a tremendous force was felt by the pilot when they pushed the button to launch. Steam cats are a gradual rapid acceleration down the cat track, and you can actually hold your head steady and not be forced back...

                I assume the newest EMALS is like the steam cat for acceleration but it supposed to be easier on the aircraft's fatigue life and requires less equipment/space aboard the carrier. The carrier Ford CV-78 has had a lot of trouble with it during sea trials but I understand that the problems have been worked out.

                JE comments:  This must be an exhilarating sensation, even addictive.  The closest I came was the "Top Thrill Dragster" at America's Roller Coaster Capital, Cedar Point (Ohio).  I don't know if its launch is hydraulic or electromagnetic, but one thing's for sure--you have to queue a very, very long time for 17 seconds of thrill.  This might be some sort of metaphor for life.


                Please login/register to reply or comment:

          • Evacuating from Alexandria, 1967 (Edward Jajko, USA 02/26/19 3:28 AM)

            The discussion of effluents of various kinds from ships reminds me of evacuating with Americans and others from Egypt at the end of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

            I was part of a group from the American University in Cairo that had been interned in Alex for most of the week of the war. On Saturday 10 June, a harrowing day I won't go into, we were finally allowed to board one of two ships that were moored at the same pier where I first arrived in Egypt in September 1965 (as a passenger on the beautiful and memorable Esperia, which Eugenio Battaglia may have known). Our choices were a Greek Dodecanese Islands ferry of some size, which had been hired by the US Embassy, and was headed for Piraeus, and a German two-hold, single-stack freighter that was bound for Crete. From there, an air connection to Italy was promised. For various reasons, I chose the German freighter, the Ankara, which could have served as the set for The Long Voyage Home. This was an empty freighter that ordinarily had accommodations for maybe 10 to 15 but was pressed into service to ferry hundreds of men and women of all ages from Alexandria to Crete, a slow, hot, sun-baked voyage.

            The fore and aft holds, designated as male and female sleeping areas, had been emptied, cleaned, and carpeted with burlap, and the crew had built wooden stairways that allowed us access from the main deck to the bottom of the hold. The women didn't like this but it was OK with the men.

            This freighter had one head on the main deck that was clearly inadequate for the large number of passengers taken on board. To meet anticipated needs, the ship's crew had built two latrines that were hung on the railings on each side of the ship, starboard and port. They were built of wood and heavy plastic sheeting and were designed to take advantage of the forward motion of the ship. There was a constant uptake of seawater from the Med and, at the after end, a constant return of seawater and of untreated effluent. On the men's side, there was a urinal trough and a, hmm, sit-down area, both of these constantly cleaned out by new seawater.

            It did not take long for the women on board, Americans, Germans, and others, to rebel against this, and they insisted on using the single crew head, creating long lines as they waited for the greater privacy.

            One other thing: at one point one of the crew members, a very nice fellow, broke out some beers for a few of us. When I finished mine, I looked around for a place to get rid of the bottle. The sailor asked me what I was doing and I explained. He told me to do what he was going to do, and threw his bottle into the sea. So did I.

            JE comments:  This memorable voyage gives an extra meaning to "evacuating"!  Ed Jajko mentioned his Alexandria internment in this post from 2017.  But I'd like to know more:  were you treated well--or at least adequately?  Have you ever written about that harrowing day (June 10th)?


            Please login/register to reply or comment:

          • A Superb Sewage Treatment Plant: The Ocean (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 02/26/19 4:15 AM)
            JE wrote on February 25th: "There's still the troubling issue that raw sewage is permissible on the High Seas (more than twelve miles off shore)."

            Why is that troubling? The sea is a superb sewage treatment plant, if only you don't locally overload it. Most sewage from coastal cities is discharged raw into the sea, through so-called "outfalls," much closer than 12 miles from shore. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_outfall

            That is sewage from cities of millions of people. The sewage from commercial vessels with a few dozen people on board at most is completely meaningless--a single fart in the Astrodome has vastly more pollution consequences than this. A cubic nautical mile of the ocean contains 6.352 x 10 ^ 9 or more than 6 billion cubic meters of water, so a cubic meter (or 1000 liters) of sewage just in one small corner of the ocean will be diluted 6 billion times, so beyond any possibility of even detecting it, once it has been fully dispersed. The ocean is rather vast.

            The sewage from cruise ships with only a few thousand people, discharged 12 or more miles from shore, would also be meaningless, compared to sewage from a city of millions being discharged a mile or two at most from shore.  It's not even a rounding error, but the cruise ship operators, I guess purely for propaganda reasons, do treat it.

            JE comments:  The world's largest outfall, according to the link above?  I would have guessed Kolkata/Calcutta, Shanghai or Rio de Janeiro, not progressive, prim-and-proper Boston.

            February has become Sewage Month on WAIS.  Endhó, Outfalls, Pump & Dump--you name it.  To complete the circle, we should discuss one of the oldest and most ingenious sewage treatment technologies of all, the Pig Toilet.  They are still in use in rural China. 

            Finely cured Chinese ham, anyone?


            Please login/register to reply or comment:

      • Ambaradan and Salamelecco (Luciano Dondero, Italy 02/24/19 10:22 AM)
        Very interesting post from my friend Eugenio Battaglia!

        A propos of strange words in Italian, there is "salamelecco," which is usually found in the phrase fare i salamelecchi, meaning long and cumbersome greetings and reciprocal sniffings between two or more people meeting after some time, before getting to the point. Well, it comes from "Salaam Alaikum," which got Italianised, sort of, probably a century ago or so.

        I just checked with Wikipedia, see:


        JE comments:  I bet very few in WAISworld knew this!  The closest I can think of in English is kowtow, which (had to look it up) comes from the Cantonese "knock head"--as in, on the ground, when kowtowing.

        Please login/register to reply or comment:

      • Amlo's Crackdown on Gasoline Pipeline Thieves; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 02/25/19 3:03 AM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        As things nautical go WAISing from things aerodynamic, first in Cameron
        Sawyer's awe-inspiring Arctic sail and beautifully taut report (far tauter than
        Purchas, His Pilgrimage, said to have helped inspire the Ancient Mariner) ,
        and next in Eugenio Battaglia's irreplaceable firsthand look into the
        technology of oil tankers, I have a question, especially for Eugenio, with
        his petro-nautics experience.

        The question begins with the 16 tankers which, in early January, were said
        to be anchored impatiently off the oil port of Tuxpan, Mexico. The tankers
        contained gasoline from the US, part of Mexico's new millennial oil-import
        hemorrhage, a problem that would have seemed unthinkable to seers a
        generation ago, when oil-giant Mexico was a behemoth exporter.

        Here we approach the reason for the question. It asks just how chaotic Mexico
        has become, measuring in this case with the dipstick of oil liters, loads, and barrels.
        The tankers were stuck outside Tuxpan because Mexico's new reformist president,
        as of December 20, was taking massive--and disruptive--steps against the surprising
        new millennial scourge of gasoline thieves. He had shut down theft-punctured pipelines
        that carried gasoline inland from ships, so that obsoletely cramped intake facilities at
        the port of Tuxpan could not accept the new loads coming in. They were backed up in
        an oceanic traffic jam. Eugenio's home waters are evoked here because two of the
        stalled craft, Miss Maria Rosario (300,000 barrels of gasoline) and Hafne Ane (50,000
        barrels of diesel) fly the flag of Malta.

        In all the shouting (little of it confirmed factually by press-conference smoke), it was said
        that Mexico had to pay a penalty of $50,000 a day to each ship delayed. So Part A of the
        question: Does Eugenio find this description credible, in terms of usual practice?

        But next Part B, with a deeper keel, also in the slippery matter of quantities and measures:

        On February 21 the president, Andres Manuel López Obrador (Amlo), declared victory
        in his highly confusing two-month war against the nation's now-epidemic gasoline pipeline
        thieves, said to have made 12,000+ known illegal perforation taps on Mexico's 8,000+
        kilometers of gasoline/fuel pipelines in 2018 alone (parsed by some as 40 bleeds a day).
        Amlo says now he has beat them, massively and decisively, by using 12,000 troops and
        draconian steps like the Tuxpan port snafu. He and his new director of Pemex (who has
        no oil experience) showed a hushed auditorium of reporters a series of PowerPoint graphs
        detailing how, when Amlo took office on December 1, the state oil company, Pemex, was incredibly
        losing 85,000 barrels of stolen gasoline a day (roughly 7 percent of Mexico's entire national
        daily gasoline consumption). But then came December 21, said the graphs, when the president's
        battle plan kicked in, and cities ran dry of gasoline for a desperate moment, narrowly avoiding
        a buying-and-hoarding panic. As reward for such pain and the sometimes baffling tactics,
        the graphs showed that after December 20, as the president's new Plan Conjunto took effect,
        Pemex's level of gasoline thefts suddenly dropped to almost nothing, and stayed there, to
        yield, by the time of the victory announcement, a theft average of only about 8,000 barrels a day,
        effectively dropping the old 7 percent theft factor down to 1 percent or less--and hence
        saving a now-rescued nation. The leaders exulted that such a savings could be projected
        over the coming year as a saved $2.6 billion US ("if we can keep going like this," the president
        added unobtrusively). They said it would provide, as if by magic, the new engine for planned
        social programs and development items, proving that such promises had not been just

        The Question, then, is simple, if surprising: How does Pemex know that it was losing 85,000
        barrels a day to theft in the moments before Amlo took office, and, conversely, how does it know
        it is now losing only a paltry 8,000 barrels or so?

        How could such a thing be measured? Maybe expertise finds this answer easy. But maybe not.
        Mysticism in pipeline fluid dynamics has been recently demonstrated on an unexpected front,
        by the world-shocking tragedy of January 18, when a Mexican pipeline-theft tap exploded and
        killed (last count) 130 people. That was the explosion at Tlahuelilpan, two hours north of Mexico
        City, on which many official voices began shouting that it wasn't their fault. Pemex itself, in this rush,
        hastened to show how it couldn't even know where a new leak is located. Pemex has a state-of-the-art electronic control room in Mexico City where banks of monitors check every hiccup
        and gurgle in distant buried tubes. But--as with pipelines in the US--the monitoring technology
        (called SCADA) is necessarily imprecise about some surprising basics. The majority of pipeline leaks,
        whether in the US or Mexico, have to be located--well, sort of by footwork, often as citizens
        notice suspicious pools. The January 18 explosion horror forced Pemex into revealing snatches
        of this blindspot. Hence the Question, and my hope that somebody can shed some light on the
        measuring methods, in a way that Mexico's opaque press-conference wisdom does not:

        How does Pemex know, day by day, so precisely, that its levels of gasoline pipeline
        theft have dropped so suddenly--when in fact its literature and old news clips, not just
        from the January tragedy, are littered with mutterings that they couldn't even find
        the locations of many taps, whose mysterious supposed sites remain to this day
        "undiscovered"? After the Tlahuelilpan explosion, Pemex's version of being precise
        for the shocked public was to use high-school math on the volume of a cylinder
        (you remember this one: r times r times L times Pi) to announce (without admitting
        the calculus) what they estimated was their volume of explosion loss. Hundreds of
        millions of dollars in SCADA technology seemed of little use in their explanation
        that 10,000 barrels of gasoline had been inside nine miles of punctured pipeline.
        Clips on US pipeline events, like a spill in Shelby County, Alabama, suggest that this
        blindness is not a Mexican exception.

        So, leaving aside some larger ecological implications for the moment: What kind of
        flow measurement might lie behind the stunning bar graphs of February 21, announcing
        victory over gasoline thieves, and promising huge savings for future plans?

        Can the wizardry of WAIS help enlighten me on these viscous matters?
        This is not to say that the triumphant bar graphs are false. They may quite possibly be credible--giving a much-needed glow to Mexico's future.
        But are they?

        JE comments:  First of all, muchas gracias to Gary Moore for monitoring the opening months of the Amlo government.  Amidst all the noise about the Wall, we're somehow overlooking what's going on in Mexico itself.

        I share Gary's skepticism about "fixing" all the pipeline leaks.  Did Amlo have his troops inspect every inch of the lines?  Even so, wouldn't the thieves just drill new taps once the troops leave?  (Unless, of course, you shut the pipelines down for good.)

        Please login/register to reply or comment:

        • Who Pays for Oil Tanker Delays? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/26/19 10:25 AM)
          Before trying to answer Gary Moore's questions of February 25th, let me first make it clear that most of my expertise about hydrocarbons has to do with the moment oils flows in and then out of the ship's manifolds. Yet here is what I know with regards to Gary's questions.

          For each hour or day of delay in discharging the cargo due to the fault of the receiver, there is a penalty according to the contract and/or the international rates of freight. So it may indeed be $50,000/day more or less. Perhaps this figure is an average for all the waiting ships or just an approximate number written by a journalist.

          This penalty is applied both ways, as the vessel/owner has to pay for any delay during the loading/ transportation/discharge. This fact places a lot of pressure on the captain. However, I personally never violated any safety or antipollution rules to speed up the process, even at the risk of quarrels with some supervisors from headquarters. I had a strong advantage, however, as the president of the company was a former captain who understood the realities and did not like monkey business. Be always suspicious of presidents of shipping companies who come from the finance departments, as they may demand "shortcuts" of the captains and then shift the blame to them if something goes wrong.

          Once I was speaking with my company's president, informing him that I had an insurance on my license. Due to the power of the company I believed the insurance was unnecessary, but the honest president told me: "Captain, you should always keep your insurance, as the interests of the company may not always coincide with yours."

          With the reference to the flow of gasoline/oil/gas inside the pipelines I have no exact knowledge of the Mexican system, but theoretically, to determine the real quantity flowing in the lines and eventually detecting any loss should be a rather easy task.

          Of course finding the exact place of a perforation by thieves cannot be so easy, but with modern technology it should not be difficult to determine where the loss is. Consider that the places where the theft is possible should be in a spot easily reachable by people. Therefore, it would not occur in a place where the pipe is one meter underground in the middle of the desert. Furthermore there are pumping stations every few kilometers, so the area to be inspected by footwork can be considerably restricted.

          JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia teaches me so much about life at sea.  Regarding Mexico's pipeline losses, I would assume many of the gasoline "pirates" pay off the pipeline employees--or they (pirates and employees) are the selfsame individuals.

          Please login/register to reply or comment:

        • Amlo: The Next Chavez...or the Next Juarez? (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 02/27/19 3:27 AM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          The logical questions John E asked in his comments on Amlo/pipelines (February 25th) are among the many that, in the press conferences, seem seldom to get asked or answered, with the pronouncements then getting repeated and
          repeated as holy writ.

          Indeed, Amlo is a different kind of president--with
          lengthy morning press conferences, while his predecessor rarely had even
          But in the above regard it looks much the same: words from the papal throne
          endorsed reverently as if they were verified, with the questions then
          into tomorrow's news cycle.

          Who is Amlo? He has carefully avoided the
          kinds of confrontational rant that made Chávez a lightning rod. By manner
          as well as deeds, he seems determined to rescue Mexico's culture
          from its own cynicism. But there is the deeper question, whispering in
          clues of language that may simply be misconstrued artifacts: No matter how
          sincere he is, is he completely sane? Is he able to believe the Marxist
          (he repeatedly scoffs at the "neoliberal" past) because... (fill in the

          I went into this thinking maybe to track a new Chávez, but now grow
          lost in the dust clouds of Mexican chaos, for which some Amlo rhetoric may
          just the inspirational remedy the doctor ordered. Could there be, not a new
          but a new Juárez?

          (And no matter how ineffectual he may wind up being against the chaos, with
          his sermons
          edging close to The New Man, could it be that Mexico will wind up loving him
          ? Could it thus rewrite an envisioned victory in memory? As with
          Juárez. And Cárdenas.
          Beloved for the effort, which is re-envisioned as victory.)

          Much too early for such questions--which can only come when it's much too
          A minefield for the observer. One false step and you wind up either among
          the deluded
          cheerleaders or the smug obstructionists, while Mexico's future hangs over
          the pit.

          JE comments:  Among the Chávez-Juárez-Cárdenas trinity, Amlo is probably closest to Cárdenas (obsession with oil, anyone?).  But it's way too early to tell.  Gary Moore makes two Amlo observations that we should use as metrics for the coming 5+ years:  Will Amlo rescue Mexico from its cynicism?  And for this, will he be celebrated...for trying?

          Gary first sent this comment to me privately, but I insisted on posting.  Gary, may I appoint you WAISdom's official Amlo-Watcher?  We need one.  There is so much noise today about our most populous neighbor, but precious little careful observation.  And almost zero analysis.

          Please login/register to reply or comment:

Trending Now

All Forums with Published Content (42307 posts)

- Unassigned

Culture & Language

American Indians Art Awards Bestiary of Insults Books Conspiracy Theories Culture Ethics Film Food Futurology Gender Issues Humor Intellectuals Jews Language Literature Media Coverage Movies Music Newspapers Numismatics Philosophy Plagiarism Prisons Racial Issues Sports Tattoos Western Civilization World Communications


Capitalism Economics International Finance World Bank World Economy


Education Hoover Institution Journal Publications Libraries Universities World Bibliography Series


Biographies Conspiracies Crime Decline of West German Holocaust Historical Figures History Holocausts Individuals Japanese Holocaust Leaders Learning Biographies Learning History Russian Holocaust Turkish Holocaust


Afghanistan Africa Albania Algeria Argentina Asia Australia Austria Bangladesh Belgium Belize Bolivia Brazil Canada Central America Chechnya Chile China Colombia Costa Rica Croatia Cuba Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark East Europe East Timor Ecuador Egypt El Salvador England Estonia Ethiopia Europe European Union Finland France French Guiana Germany Greece Guatemala Haiti Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran (Persia) Iraq Ireland Israel/Palestine Italy Japan Jordan Kenya Korea Kosovo Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Latin America Liberia Libya Mali Mexico Middle East Mongolia Morocco Namibia Nations Compared Netherlands New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria North America Norway Pacific Islands Pakistan Palestine Paraguay Peru Philippines Poland Polombia Portugal Romania Saudi Arabia Scandinavia Scotland Serbia Singapore Slovakia South Africa South America Southeast Asia Spain Sudan Sweden Switzerland Syria Thailand The Pacific Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan UK (United Kingdom) Ukraine USA (America) USSR/Russia Uzbekistan Venezuela Vietnam West Europe Yemen Yugoslavia Zaire


Balkanization Communism Constitutions Democracy Dictators Diplomacy Floism Global Issues Hegemony Homeland Security Human Rights Immigration International Events Law Nationalism NATO Organizations Peace Politics Terrorism United Nations US Elections 2008 US Elections 2012 US Elections 2016 Violence War War Crimes Within the US


Christianity Hinduism Islam Judaism Liberation Theology Religion

Science & Technology

Alcohol Anthropology Automotives Biological Weapons Design and Architecture Drugs Energy Environment Internet Landmines Mathematics Medicine Natural Disasters Psychology Recycling Research Science and Humanities Sexuality Space Technology World Wide Web (Internet)


Geography Maps Tourism Transportation


1-TRIBUTES TO PROFESSOR HILTON 2001 Conference on Globalizations Academic WAR Forums Ask WAIS Experts Benefactors Chairman General News Member Information Member Nomination PAIS Research News Ronald Hilton Quotes Seasonal Messages Tributes to Prof. Hilton Varia Various Topics WAIS WAIS 2006 Conference WAIS Board Members WAIS History WAIS Interviews WAIS NEWS waisworld.org launch WAR Forums on Media & Research Who's Who