By TIM ROWDEN
If the Obama Administration approves the Keystone XL Pipeline – TransCanada’s $5.3 billion project to transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries – jobs and oil with come.
If the administration doesn’t approve it, the oil will still come via truck or rail, labor leaders and pipeline proponents say, but not as safely and not creating as many jobs.
That was the overriding message at a rally April 18 sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute and hosted by the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council and the Misouri Petroleum Council at the Hilton at the Ballpark to promote the pipeline and other job-creating infrastructure.
“If we don’t build this pipeline, this oil is going to come to market,” said Brent Booker, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Building & Construction Trades Department, one of the guest speakers at the rally. “This oil is going to come from Canada and it’s going to come down to the United States. It’s going to come from the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana and North Dakota and it’s going to be on the back of rail cars.”
That won’t create as many new jobs, proponents say, and is actually more environmentally hazardous than pumping the oil through a pipeline.
Supporters say the pipeline would create thousands of jobs – approximately 9,000 according to the TransCanada wesbsite keystone-xl.com – and support thousands more in the manufacturing sector.
“These are jobs with good pay and benefits, jobs that support working families,” said Rick Terven, executive vice president of the United Association of union plumbers, pipefitters, sprinkler fitters and service technicians, one of the other speakers at the rally.
Terven noted that roughly 16 percent of workers in the building construction trades is currently unemployed, more than double the national average for unemployment.
Keystone could help begin turning that around, he said.
State Sen. Gina Walsh (D-Belllefontaine Neighbors), who was recently
elected president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council, said “This project is not about jobs; this project is about good jobs. Brothers and sisters, you need to contact everyone you know in Washington, D.C., right down to the custodian, and tell them that’s what we need for the American petroleum industry and for the Keystone project.”
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the Keystone project would create more than 1,000 new jobs in Missouri and 42,000 jobs nationwide.
“We’re talking about good jobs, good jobs for skilled trades men and women in manufacturing, transportation and construction, jobs for welders and electricians, pipefitters and carpenters, teamsters and engineers. And where there are new jobs for skilled labor, there are going to be jobs for other
Missourians as well in retail, in the service sector in the health care industry. It’s good for all of us,” Koster said.
Ryan Rowden, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, said with labor’s support, Keystone would be built.
“With all of you guys supporting it, I think we can get something done,” Rowden said.
SUPPORT FOR JOBS
More than 750 union members and labor leaders turned out for the rally, including members of Operating Engineers Local 513, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, Laborers locals 110 and 42, Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1 and representatives of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.
Caleb Leek, a 30-year-old heavy equipment operator with Operating Engineers Local 513, turned out for the rally because he has been out of work for two years.
“We need jobs,” Leek said. If I work, then I’ll buy clothes and shoes, and then everybody else gets money.”
Dan Williams, a 53-year-old Laborer with Local 42, said he is hopeful the pipeline will be approved.
“We’re going to support the pipeline and hopefully get some work,” Williams said. “I’m hoping some of that will come to Local 42. Hopefully, a whole bunch of it.”
WHERE THE PROJECT STANDS
The Obama administration rejected an earlier version of the Keystone XL project last year because of environmental concerns in Nebraska where the pipeline would have routed across a sensitive ecosystem of grass-covered sand dunes known as the Sand Hills atop the Ogallala fresh-water aquifer
TransCanada responded by breaking up the project into two parts and going ahead with the southern leg between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast, which does not require presidential approval because it doesn’t cross a national border. That leg of the project is about 70 percent complete.
The U.S. State Department issued a draft environmental report in March that flagged no major concerns with the project.
A 45-day public comment period has wrapped up. Next the State Department will issue a final environmental report, after which it will consult with other government agencies to determine if the project is in the U.S. national interest. President Obama will have the final say.
A decision is expected this summer.