First step

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | May 2009 Vol. 64 No. 5

I’ve been hearing some encouraging housing news. Economic experts are reporting that the devastating housing meltdown the country has been experiencing for some time has just about reached its economic bottom, or is in the process of bottoming out.

It’s about time. Most of these experts are in agreement that the nation, as a whole, will see positive housing growth by the fourth quarter of this year. In fact, they claim, parts of the country have already bottomed out and there are signs of slight housing turnarounds.

So what does that have to do with the underground utilities/pipeline construction and rehabilitation markets? Everything. It’s all about taking those small, first steps. Growth in the housing market means people going back to work and beginning to generate needs related to the construction and rehabilitation markets. That eventually equates into new natural gas connections, which leads to more gas distribution demand which will drive construction of transmission pipelines. It means more sewer laterals, manholes and water distribution lines which push the need for either new or upgrading/repairing existing sewer/water mains. It means renewed broadband and related telecom demand, electricity consumption, etc.

But first we’ve got to start taking those baby steps in the housing market.

A viable alternative

In our nation’s newfound love affair with everything ‘green,’ discussion on alternative fuels is all the rage. Every possible (and some impossible) concept for alternative fuel sources is being bandied about to anybody in Washington who will listen. Proposals range from the ridiculous to the possible. Our new administration and Congress seem committed to blazing an alternative energy path immediately – if not sooner.

All well and good in theory (assuming we can find a practical ‘theory’ or two that actually have merit and a practical future). But a key component of the alternative fuel strategy frequently overlooked is the time it takes to develop and transition to alternative fuels. Even the most optimistic experts admit (when pinned down), that, barring an unforseen, radical scientific breakthrough, developing alternative fuel sources that can handle the majority of our needs in an effective and affordable manner will take 50 years. And that’s a bare minimum.

It’s time to turn Washington’s wild-eyed, exuberance back to reality and practicality. We already have an abundant alternative fuel source right in front of us. Natural gas is a plentiful, easy to produce, economical, efficient fuel with a low carbon footprint.