The First-Person Project

Bruce Waterman ’75

Austin, TX

Pipeline Cartographer and Permitter, Texas Railroad Commission

Major: Geography

I was born in Rehoboth, Mass., and lived there until I was nine. Then I moved to Woodsville, in northern New Hampshire. I had a notion I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. It’s kind of funny, because around the time I started at Keene State, humongous teacher shortages were being predicted, but by the time I graduated, there was a teacher glut. I was a history major to begin with, but I realized that I probably was not going to become a history teacher. And also, around the middle of my sophomore year, I met some fascinating professors – Klaus Bayr and Steve Hobart in the Geography Department, and Charles Weed in political science. Those guys got me interested in what they were teaching and I just took their courses whenever I could. I started studying mapping, and getting into anything I could do with mapping. I decided that was the direction I was going to go. I dropped the history major and went toward geography.

I have great memories of a field trip with Klaus Baer and Steve Hobart. We went out to Michigan to look at what they call the Driftless Region – an area that didn’t get hit when the glaciers came through during the last few Ice Ages. It’s still old earth, meaning the soil didn’t get scraped away and replaced by the next round. We looked at the soil and the landscape. Out there, you see a little bit differently. The landscape changes from rolling hills and grass and trees to something that’s almost like the southwest. You’ve got old rocks that weren’t pushed over, as opposed to a lot of areas you see where everything is just smoother. There are natural rock bridges that formed and were not destroyed by glacial action later on.

I didn’t really go to college to be something in particular. I went to college to get a liberal education. I went to broaden my horizons. I wasn’t too worried about finding a career, finding a job, when I was in college. I knew something would come up. I didn’t envision myself staying with any particular job for more than about ten years. I wanted to do a variety of things through life – though it’s turned out that I have worked for the same agency the last 25 years.

When I graduated from college I got a job with the New Hampshire Office of Comprehensive Planning, making land use maps, planning maps. Some politicians then were focused on keeping New Hampshire rural and others wanted growth. So did we follow the Vermont plan, where everything would be super-protected, or maybe the Massachusetts plan, where you just let the economy dictate whatever happened? We were trying to create land use maps to prove or disprove whatever direction they wanted to go to do the best for the state. Unexpectedly, this was my first taste of politics, where a change in leadership means a change in direction. What one group of politicians think is a great idea, the next thinks is a giant waste of taxpayer money. So when there was a change in a governor’s opinion at some point, and our funding dried up and our mapping project got thrown in the trash. The whole thing went down for nothing, and they just said, Thank you we; don’t need you anymore.

That was in 1977. Next I got a job working for the New York Department of Transportation, doing what was basically accident surveillance. The idea was to map all of the roads and link all the attributes of every section of road – the slope, type of pavement, all of these variables – to come up with some sort of notion of what caused accidents. We did it by digitizing highway maps so the individual cities and counties provided information to fill in data about each road section. That was a pretty good project, too, a lot of fun, but unfortunately it was federally funded, and it was axed when Ronald Reagan’s first budget hit in October 1981.

At that point I decided that I didn’t want to work for the government anymore, so I bumped around with some odd jobs for a while, and then I got a job working for UPS in northern Vermont. I became a cover driver, which means if somebody was on vacation, which somebody always was, I would do their route. It was a good fit. Because of my mapping background, I was able to learn their routes in about a day, while most people take about a week. I did that for about eight years. It was an awesome job.

By then, I was married – to a Texan. We were having trouble starting a family, so we moved down to Austin for fertility treatments. Within three or four months, I got a job with the Texas Railroad Commission. This time I knew I wouldn’t get bumped, because it’s pipeline mapping. The oil and gas industry’s not going away in Texas; it’s pretty much the whole economy. Originally the Commission was set up to regulate the railroads. But we haven’t regulated anything to do with transportation since about 1985. The agency is really an Energy Commission.

It’s a neat job. When I started I was mapping the database. Originally all the pipelines were just drawn on highway maps of each county, running straight from Point A to Point B without any detail. The pipeline companies would send us paper maps, and we would digitize in what we saw. Eventually we were having them do their own mapping and sending it to us. They were actually going out there and using GPS and putting the pipelines on the map exactly where they were, and then were sending us those maps. Now it’s done electronically. They either just go out there with a GPS and they walk along the pipeline, or they have something called a “smart pig,” which runs inside the pipeline. The pig can record location, but it also checks the condition of the pipeline from inside. They send us the GPS coordinates, and that’s how we map the majority of pipelines today.

But about the time this was all transitioning, I was transitioning in the job myself into a job that’s partly supervisory. I’m part of the group that issues pipeline permits. It’s not like a building permit – it’s more like a registration. The pipeline companies will register their pipelines, and then they give us a lot of required information and we determine whether or not the pipelines are what we call ‘jurisdictional’. That determines whether or not we do safety inspections on them. So if they are transmission lines, they get inspected, but if it’s just a gathering line, out in the country, we don’t inspect those. We trust that they’re low enough pressure and there’s not enough people out there that if something happened anybody would get hurt. It’s all risk based. Part of my job is to coordinate between pipeline operators and RRC field staff. I issue the registration permit to begin with, I send that information out to the region people, and it’s determined whether or not they are jurisdictional. My job, my division, is all about keeping people safe, and making sure that the pipeline companies are following all the rules.

Within a year of moving to Texas, we found a doctor; he did all the fertility procedures. My son, Adrien, was born in 1992. Olivia followed in 1995. After we had the kids, my wife left, so I raised the kids by myself. I tell people, it’s not what I would have wished for, but it was a great experience. My son graduated from Texas State with a degree in sound engineering, and my daughter’s a sophomore at Texas A&M studying kinesiology.

As soon as he could play, my son got into soccer, which was the sport that I played growing up. He started at five, and I coached his team for six or seven years. When Olivia was five, she wanted to play, too. I coached both their teams for a while, then focused on Olivia’s as she got into it. Soccer was her whole life. I coached her team until she was 16 or 17. Coaching kids is a blast. It’s something that I think everyone ought to do. Kids take to me. They really enjoy my goofiness. I absolutely love coaching girls, far more than coaching boys. When a girl plays soccer, she’s out there because she wants to be, not because there’s nothing else to do. A lot of boys are there because they are being pushed, but girls play because they want to. That enthusiasm makes it easier to coach them.

This is the first year I haven’t coached since 1996, partly because next week I’m going to Iceland with my son for two weeks. It’s one of those intriguing places I’ve always wanted to visit. I used to travel with the whole family. Me, my kids, my partner, Dara Myers – she was a mom on the soccer team raising two kids on her own, and we got together about ten years ago – and Dara’s kids. In the last couple years I’ve decided to travel with one person at a time. My daughter and I travel to see the US women’s soccer team whenever they play within a few hundred miles. This year we went to Vancouver to see them in the World Cup final, where they beat Japan. Dara and I are going to Argentina and Brazil in February. I am entering that phase where I’ve got lots of vacation time and the kids are independent and I can afford to travel, and that is the focus of my life right now.

I definitely like the warm weather in Texas. Whenever I get homesick, I remember that the last month that I lived up there, December of ’89, the temperature never got above zero. I do like coming back in the summer, however. Austin is the only place in Texas I could live, though. It’s a blue dot in a red state. It’s not just political, but just the atmosphere here is a lot more socially conscious. You don’t need to go very far out of town, however, to figure out why this state supports some of the oddballs you see on the news representing this state.