On a normal day of operation at your friendly neighborhood industrial facility or oil refinery, thousands of pounds of toxic and/or flammable materials are shooting through hot pipes, swirling about in vessels, and reacting under tightly controlled conditions into desirable products. As a (retired) chemical engineer, I’ve worn my steel-toed boots thin in many such a place.
FTR, cyanide has a delicate, almond-like smell.
Such facilities have elaborate plans in place outlining what should be done to protect the surrounding community in case of catastrophic explosions, chemical releases, and the like. Engineers try to think of every possible what-if scenario. Updates to these plans are submitted to public authorities on a regular basis. Still, even the cleverest of engineers (and engineers are very clever if I do say so myself) can’t foresee everything.
Such facilities, when operational, vibrate and rumble with a deep primeval growl. They draw enormously from local grids and often have their own power plants. Inside their perimeter fences are immense amounts of potential energy. Under the right circumstances all this can go kablooey into a spectacular display of kinetic energy.
What if no engineers and operators are around to turn everything off and secure the facility before the SHTF? Anyone within earshot will think it’s the Big Bang or the Second Coming. Next comes a conflagration and a release of hazardous materials. Once everything quiets down, there’d be scorched, poisoned, uninhabitable earth, with twisting, rusted hulks of metal. Green Weenies such as myself cringe at the idea.
This is a scenario I rarely see played out in fiction. The only dystopian story I can think of that mentioned such a scenario is Stephen King’s The Stand. I’m sure there’s other stories that address exploding manufacturing facilities, I’m just not aware of them. Not that I’m aware of all that much. Like, what are my kids snacking on as I type this?
Before you rag on the petrochem industry, take a look at your phone (smart or old fashioned landline) and question yourself about its origins. If you don’t like plastic then put down your phone, get two soup cans, connect the bottoms with a string, and send text messages that way. Hey, look Ma, no plastic!
There you have it, my non-existent readers. Another hint for those who want to write an awesome grid-down-scenario dystopian novel. Don’t forget manufacturing facilities, oil refineries, chemical plants, or the corner gas station.
Don’t ever wish for the grid to go down IRL. Just don’t. It won’t be pretty. For your novel, however, go ahead and blow up that oil refinery near your characters’ place of residence. That’ll make for some exciting reading.
Gotta go check on my kids.
ETA: Industrial accidents are terrible, tragic things. This posting is merely a tip for those writing dystopian fiction.
Also, I am pretty sure that linking photographs from a US government website is permissible. This blog isn’t monetized and I gave proper credits. Here’s hoping I’m correct.