You know what blows up besides oil? Just about everything

Since I’m based in California and work the last US shift of the day with the Platts Central Editing Desk, it falls to me to watch for possible news items as the sun rolls out of the American sky and into Asia.

So nearly every evening, unless I’m so flat out with other work that I can’t, I troll Google to see if something wild has happened in the commodities world that I ought to cover for us.

This has me regularly searching for words such as “spill” and “explosion” and “fire.”

(And yes, I am absolutely expecting Homeland Security to come to my place any day now. It will be interesting to see how my company’s bean counters respond when they see the bail bond charge on my expense bill.)

In the process, it’s become quite clear that things are always on fire and/or exploding and/or spilling somewhere in this country. I suppose it’s just a numbers game — it’s a big country, after all — but it is a little unnerving to discover that industrial America is regularly having fits, starts and total implosions, or explosions, as a part of its normal operations.

It is equally unsettling to find that more domestic parts of American life are also prone to these dramas. I have repeatedly felt grateful that my house is not immediately next to that of my neighbors… just in case.

But in addition to the things I’ve learned to expect — apartment fires, train mishaps, flying manhole covers — I often come across things that are either less routine or more interesting, or both.

Things that explode

Car wash: Not what you were expecting, right? Me neither.

Paintball warehouse

Transformers: The electrical kind, not the alien races kind. Both above and below ground. Best line from one recent item: “Fire Chief Richard Anderson told 22News that it was a transformer that blew up, and flew into the woods somewhere.

Grain/grain dust: Two separate incidents in a week. Farming is not for sissies.

Mulch:  This reminded me of the time the compost heap at my communal living residence caught fire mid-summer when I was in college. Oh, those heady days.

Hash oil: This picked up speed after The Great Legalization in a few fine Western states.

Manufacturing plants: Such as the time parts coated with flammable materials were put into an electric oven when they should not have been.

Insecticide foggers: If you set off 10 in your apartment, but have not turned out your pilot light, things may not end well.

Jet skis: More than once, people. Watch yourselves.

Acetylene filled balloons: I’m sorry to have to admit this bit of genius took place in my state.

Fish oil plant: Well, I’ve always found those salmon oil capsules a bit volatile.

Eggnog:  “A secret new eggnog mix may have triggered an explosion at a pharmaceutical plant that caused ‘millions of dollars’ worth of damage.”

Circular saw meets crude oil tank = explosion = tank splits in half!

Garage door blown off during fiber-optic cable installation; pinched propane line suspected. Fiber-optic team has halted work and implemented new safety procedures. Wise.

Sewer system + tanker truck accident = diesel and gasoline spill into storm drain = flows to sewer system, which blows up. Not a good day in Nashville.

Van filled with 20 lbs of explosives – YOU THINK???

And in a related aside: Iowa State University is working on an explosion-resistant trash can. Given my “research” into the frequency of explosions in our fine country, I’m not even surprised someone thinks we need one.

Things that spill

Sand: And not fracking sand! Likewise gravel, rock salt, cement.

Acid: In one case, three different acids at once in a high school lab. You’d be surprised how often things get out of hand in school chemistry departments.

Nails: “Thousands”! Sucked to be driving behind that guy.

Bales of hay:  Ditto.

Whey byproduct: Apparently, this is a side effect of making all that Greek yogurt we like.

Sewage: More often than you want to know, including onto beaches and out of semi-trucks hauling it heaven-knows-where.

Manure: Less often than human sewage, but often enough to surprise you. Reminded me of this clip.

Butter, and margarine, and whipping cream, all in one go.

Animal feed supplement: Lots of it, and into a waterway. Criminal investigation underway.

Mercury: “An unexplained mercury spill closed a Guerneville street corner Thursday…”

Cranberry sludge: Even after cleanup, “the highway retained a distinct reddish hue.” Probably seemed like a gruesome cautionary tale to any driver not in the know.

Cucumbers: Truck carrying frozen chickens meets truck carrying cucumbers. Chicken truck wins.

I won’t even go into the fire news, but will note that sleeping with your iPhone under your pillow is not a good plan. And, courtesy the UK, neither is attempting to kill a spider with a cigarette lighter and an aerosol can.

In short: It’s crazy out there. Wear your hardhats, carry a fire extinguisher and watch out for flying electrical transformers and falling butter.

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  1. Philip Verleger at August 22, 2014 1:38 pm

    This is by far the best item I have read on the Barrel Blog or anywhere for months if not years.

    Thank you.


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