Last updateFri, 05 Jun 2020 3pm

Too Good To Be True

oil-barrelA couple of months ago, when it cost nearly $60 to fill up my (very) little car, I vented my annoyance by blogging about the seemingly arbitrary pricing of gasoline.

At the time, in early April, a gallon of gas was averaging about $3.96 across the U.S. Today, according to Consumer News, it averages around $3.57. At least 35 cents less. In Canada it’s $1.24 per litre today as compared to $1.41 in April. Calculated over a U.S. gallon, that’s a 67 cent savings. A barrel of oil is trading a bit over $80, compared to April, when the average was around $104.

So why am I complaining about lower gas prices? I’m not. But that doesn’t stop me from worrying about this break, because I am, after all, something of a suspicious sort.

What in the world has changed so much since April? It is said that the reason oil is down is because of uncertainty in the Euro zone and that China’s economy is not growing like it was before. But is either of those situations so different now than it was two months ago? Didn’t we know that the EU was in danger in April? Same with the Chinese boom? And certainly demand hasn’t dropped that much in two months.

So what is the real reason for this little gift of a break at the pump? While oil spills, carbon taxes and political posturing certainly could have an effect, my sense is that speculation is the real driver of this trend. Does that worry anyone else? I mean, that so much depends on the whims and vagaries of a group of people working behind closed doors makes me very nervous.

While low gas prices make us happy for a few days, this cannot be a healthy situation. When arbitrary reactions by analysts and investors literally have the power to affect the world economy, we should sit up and take notice. The normal supply and demand, market driven rules of commerce are a joke when it comes to gasoline, because whether we conserve or hop in the car to pick up a quart of milk at the corner store, it makes no difference to what we pay at the pump.

This is also not good for producers or refiners or the manufacturers who supply to them, because the price set by speculation has nothing to do with actual demand, the true cost of getting the crude to its ultimate end users, or what the market can actually bear. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. I’m not looking forward to getting the bill.

Kate Kunkel is Senior Editor of Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The Reports of its Death...

china_dragonIf China were a person, we can imagine it echoing Mark Twain’s comment upon learning his obituary had been published in the New York Journal. “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

It is a fact that the brakes have been slammed on China’s growth. Medium and long term loans to business in that country have dropped by 46% from 2011, manufacturing has slowed as exports have dropped due to the Eurozone crisis and slower than expected economic recovery in the U.S., and real estate prices have been falling in many cities for several months. Pundits are calling it the "Chinese Bubble."

Additionally, political intrigue has the potential to add to the disruption. One of the contenders for China’s presidency, Bo Xilai, has been kicked out of the Politburo and his wife, Gu Kailai, has been charged with murder of a British businessman. Ah, what a tangled web.

Many people in North America gleefully glom onto bad news from the Far East, believing that China is to blame for our domestic economic woes. While it seems simple – slaying the dragon means the end of “Made in China” competition - it is not that simple.

My grandmother was full of colorful colloquialisms that inspired my childish imagination in many ways. One of them was “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. I remember envisioning ghastly images when I heard her say that, but somehow it seems like an appropriate analogy to North Americans cheering China’s troubles. In this global economy, where a sneeze in Greece can set off a hurricane in Canada, do we really wish to see the destruction of such a prominent feature?

What would it mean to the valve and ancillary manufacturing businesses here at home? With less competition, would domestic manufacturers have less competition for the big projects? Would there simply be fewer projects requiring valves? Or would struggling Chinese companies simply cut prices even further, with possibly catastrophic repercussions?

Are the reports of China’s death greatly exaggerated? Should we hope they are? We are barely recovering from the bursting of the American real estate bubble. I’m not sure I want to see what would happen if there was another big POP.

Kate Kunkel is senior editor for Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Reflections on Training

cyclistI decided this past Saturday that I could tackle a bicycle trail that I probably wouldn’t have attempted even when I was a much fitter 25. But flush on the success of a 30 mile ride last summer, I thought, why not? Sure, my companions had 10 years’ more experience than I, and it was my first real ride of the season, but surely I could keep up with them. So what if I’m a writer who spends the majority of her time on her backside in front of a computer? And training, who needs training? On the map provided by the local cycling club, it looked pretty easy. Fifteen miles, no steep hills, lots of flat, straight stretches. Of course what the map did not show was that those straight stretches were littered with boulders and tree roots jutting from hard packed clay.

As I sit here on my couch with my foot in all its purplish splendor resting propped on cushions and the scent of liniment wafts through the house, the importance of training takes center stage in my mind.

As in life, so it goes in business, where the ramifications of poor training are much more serious. Whether it’s machining a specialized part for valve, welding a seam on a pipeline or installing an actuator, the need for well trained, motivated personnel cannot be over-emphasized. But North America has a problem. There is a very real shortage of skilled workers. And that translates to problems for actuator, valve and control manufacturers and the customers who use their products.

manufacturingA perfect example is a precision metal company in Michigan. A company recently asked them to make pieces for pipes, an order that would normally be cause for celebration. But that meant finding six new operators to do the work, and the manufacturer struggled to fill the order because there simply were not enough people in the community who were trained to do the work.

While current unemployment figures sit around 12.8 million in the U.S., a recent report by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute found that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled. As companies gear back up from the recession and work to bring manufacturing back to North America, that means there is going to have to be a concerted effort to re-train workers whose skills have been made obsolete by equipment like the computer numerically controlled machines that have taken the place of traditional skilled workers like tool and die makers. Now, shaping a metal part requires computer programming skills, which older skilled tradesmen simply do not have.

Obviously retraining of older workers is going to be a huge issue, but so too will it be necessary to actively recruit young people who may see a career in manufacturing as simply too risky. After all, for many of them, their parents or older siblings are still reeling from the outsourcing that characterized the last two decades.

Bottom line – whatever it costs, it’s worth the price of training.

Trust me, I know.

Kate Kunkel is senior editor for Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Tripping Down Memory Lane

texaco signMy grandpa used to own a gas station. It was a Texaco station where I remember the sign reading 30 cents for a gallon. The store connected to the gas station was the front of Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and it was there that I spent many summers while Mom and Dad made their mark in the world. When customers, especially the tourists, would come in for a soda pop or to get directions from the big map on the wall, Grandpa would take that opportunity to sit me up on the Coke machine where I would sing, “You Are My Sunshine” for a shiny quarter or one of the ice cream treats in the counter.

I romanticize those days for a few reasons, one of which was the fact I could eat as much ice cream as I wanted. The other because I can only imagine what it was like to fill up a Buick for $4.50. The late 1950s were a magical time. The whole world lay at the feet of America the Good, a nation basking in the glow of victory over the Axis Powers, and everyone was working, building cars and widgets and valves right here in the U.S. of A.

Fast forward 50 something years where you can almost buy a gallon of gas for $4.50, and the fact that sippy cups are actually being made in the U.S. and sold competitively at Wal-Mart is cause for a lengthy magazine article. Of course those times weren’t perfect. The smog in Los Angeles got so bad in 1954 that people actually wore gas masks on the worst days and women made substantially less, anywhere from 40 to 50% than their male counterparts, if they were even allowed in some sectors of the workforce.

la smogWhich brings me to the point of this little exercise. While I really miss being able to eat ice cream every day, I don’t miss the smog, which thanks in part to the emission reduction efforts of valve manufacturers is mostly a vague memory. And I’m glad that I did not start my career when women earned so much less than men for the same job, even though there is still a long way to go in job equality.

I’m excited that now, in 2012, women have taken important leadership roles in many industries, and there are several of them in the valve industry. I was able to interview a few of these women for this week’s Web Feature, Women in Valves. It will be posted this week here on ValveMagazine.com – don’t miss it!

Kate Kunkel is senior editor for Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Much Ado About Nothing

pipelineongroundresizedSometimes I feel like an idiot.

While some might say it’s because I moved from sunny Southern California to live in Ontario, Canada where here, on April 24th, it is raining and snowing, and the wind is blowing so hard I could barely stand up while I filled my tank with gas (at $1.34 per litre or $5.07 per gallon), that’s not the reason.

No, the reason I feel like an idiot is because I just don’t understand all the objections to every pipeline, refinery and gas exploration project put forth in North America. I feel like I’m missing something. Maybe someone out there can help.

snowy car april 24 webHere in Ontario there’s a huge fuss because Enbridge wants to reverse the flow of oil in one of its pipelines from refineries in Sarnia to Portland, Maine. This instead of bringing oil imported from the Middle East west through the pipeline into Southwestern Ontario. And this despite the fact the pipeline originally ran west to east.

On this same day, I’m reading that a Utah refinery expansion is being attacked because of its potential to add to air pollution. Of course nobody wants to see more air pollution, but even with the upgrade, the refinery would be operating well under its allowed pollution levels. As I’ve said in a previous blog, I am just as concerned as the next person about the environment, but frankly, sometimes, the rhetoric gets a bit out of hand. One opponent said, "I'm not willing to give up my grandma 10 years early so that you can drive your cars and make more gasoline, or so that people in Las Vegas can get their cars filled up with gas."

I have to wonder how that person gets around in Utah. She made it sound like only people in Las Vegas need to fill up their cars with gas.

And of course, we’re still hearing all kinds of objections to the Keystone XL pipeline. One of the strangest comments about that came from the White House, when Spokesman Jay Carney blasted the House for approving Keystone, calling it "highly politicized, highly partisan" and saying the government would not make a hasty decision to allow a "foreign pipeline built by a foreign company emanating from foreign territory to cross U.S. borders" without proper due diligence.

Foreign country? But it’s quite all right to ship across the oceans and via pipelines from the Gulf, oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. I don’t understand.

We have a fragile economic recovery in the works here. Building refineries and pipelines create jobs, both in the construction and for manufacturers including and especially those making valves, actuators and controls. Having more easily accessible sources of energy lowers the cost of the product, helping consumers and industry cut costs. Plus, in the case of Canadian oil, the U.S. is purchasing product from a country that doesn’t stone women who have been raped or cut off the heads of political dissidents.

Am I an idiot? Am I missing something here?

Kate Kunkel is senior editor for Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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