Investigators claim that $1.5 billion were wasted building the Alaska pipeline. You are probably asking, "Where did the money go?"
To find out, I spoke to Stanton Carruthers, my plumber.
Stanton wasn't surprised at the overrun since he's had similar ones fixing the pipes in our house. Although he didn't work on the pipeline himself, he has some good ideas why in Alaska pipeline cost so much to install.
"I figure a billion of the overrun went for labor," Stanton said. "It's not easy to get a plumber to make a house call in Alaska. Then there was the pipe. The cost of pipe is going up every day, and probably the people who bid on the job didn't take this into consideration at the time. Then, of course, there were the washers. You have to have a lot of washers on a pipe 800 miles long."
"It sounds like one of your jobs," I said.
"Well, there's not much difference between building a pipeline and installing plumbing in someone's house. You have to expect an overrun of the plumber wouldn't make a profit. The guy who got the Alaska contract also forgot to include the joints in the pipe. Joints really add up, particularly if you have to thread them before you join them."
"I guess you do have joints in an 800 mile pipeline. You would have thought the plumber would know he needed joints"
"You only find this out after you start the job. Remember that sink I installed for you?"
"The one you said would cost $200 and wound up costing me $500?"
"That's the one. Well, what happened was after we installed the sink and the pipe we forgot to hook it up to the main water line."
I remember that."
"I remember that." I said. "I had to shave without water for a week. I cut up my face pretty bad."
"That can happen. So what we did was tear out the installation, drill a hole in your wall and hook up the pipe with the water. That's why we had to charge you $300 more than we figured the job would cost."
"And something like that might have happened on the Al aska pipeline?"
"I'm sure of it. The probably got the whole thing built and then discovered it wasn't hooked up to the oil. Then they had to tear it up and began all over again."
"They said a lot of the welding was of poor quality and the X-rays and records were forged."
"That's possible," Stamton said. "When you're working with pipe, you can do a lot of sloppy work. It's like that shower head I installed for you and it leaked all over the bathroom, and we had to come back and put in a whole new faucet system. That was faulty welding."
"Why did you charge me for it if it was faulty?"
"Who was I going to charge - the guy next door? Everyone thinks plumbers are infallible. We're human, too. We make mistakes."
"That 's for sure," I said. "But the one in Alaska was a lulu."
"You can say that because you didn't do the work. But if you were a plumber, you'd think differently. Look, the pipeline was supposed to cost $1 billion. Instead it cost $8 billion. Most of that probably went for overtime. The $1.5 billion that went down the drain was ordinary spillage that anyone has on a job. I'd say for a billion-dollor original bid, bringing in a pipeline for $8 billion is just about right."
"Then you don't see anything wrong with how they constructed the Alaska pipeline?"
"Even if I did, I wouldn't say so. In our profession, it's unethical to criticize another plumber's work."