Remembering the recent past

Kuwait Oil Fires from altitudeRemember the oil fires in Kuwait? Such wailing and gnashing of teeth. The talking heads told us it could take up to five years, or more, to put out all the oil well fires. The black smoke effect would be almost as bad as “nuclear winter “.

Then someone interviewed a fellow from Boots & Coots. He was dressed in a red jumpsuit with a hard hat – all covered in crude. He was asked how long it would take to put out the fires. With a heavy Texas drawl, don’t remember if he was chewing and spitting, he said that if the Kuwaities could achieve what they asked, he figured they could put them out in six months to a year. What? All those educated folks were telling us it would be years and years! According to them, it was almost an impossible task.

Kuwait Oil Wells BurningThey (B&C), and all the other well fire fighters, were waiting to see if the Kuwait Oil Company could pump water from the Persian Gulf back to the oil fields using the same pipelines that had been used to pipe oil to the ports. They did. Within six months most of the fires were out. Only a few remained. These were wells that had all of the above ground hardware blown away by Saddam’s rigged explosives. There was no exposed pipe. The oil and fire blew up from a bomb like crater. But three months later they had all the fires out. The lesson, repeated throughout history, is to listen to those who actually do the work. They don’t teach this in college except for the very best engineering schools.

Suppose you were to tell your father that you could blowout an oil fire just like one blows out a candle. The only difference being the first case requires dynamite – in a controlled manner, while suspended in a blowtorch like flame.

“Sure son, go ahead” doesn’t pop into your head. Pure brilliance – and why the oil well fighters needed the water from the Persian Gulf to put out oil fires in the desert. But several other innovative approaches were used.

You realize of course that for most of our time on planet Earth, there were no Phd. degrees. The closes thing to a degree in problem solving is an engineering degree. As long as the individual uses education to understand how and why things work. As Professor Hermann said, “An Engineering degree proves you can read and understand a body of work. Whether you are an Engineer has yet to be determined.”

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