Operating Engineers Lead Building Trades Push For Keystone OK

April 18, 2013 10:01 am | Categories:

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Saying constructing the Keystone XL pipeline would employ 10,000 building trades workers, the Operating Engineers strongly urged Congress to approve the controversial project from the Montana-Canada border to the Texas Gulf Coast. The union is leading the building trades’ united push for Keystone.

Its latest effort was April 16 testimony backing GOP-sponsored legislation to take the Keystone decision out of the hands of Democratic President Barack Obama and order the pipeline’s construction. The GOP-run Energy Committee voted on party lines two days later to approve the pro-Keystone bill.

Keystone would bring “heavy oil” from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries, to be converted into gasoline and other petroleum products.

Hundreds of Operating Engineers are already at work constructing Keystone’s southern segment, from the Cushing, Okla., terminal to Port Arthur on the coast, Operating Engineers Assistant Legislative Director Jeffrey Soth told lawmakers.

The dispute is over the northern segment of the route, and Obama must make the decision because of the international border. The GOP wants to yank it from him.

Unions are split on Keystone. The Operating Engineers speak for a building trades coalition, including the Laborers and the Teamsters, that, years ago, signed a project labor agreement (PLA) with TransCanada, Keystone’s sponsor. The PLA means Keystone would be built with U.S. union labor, on time and on budget.

“At a time when unemployment in the construction sector hovers around 15%, these jobs are a lifeline for thousands of construction workers,” Soth told the April 16 energy subcommittee hearing. “Hundreds of IUOE members are building the Gulf Coast segment now, paying their mortgages, investing in their pensions, covering their family health care, and earning the best wages and benefits in the industry.”

But other unions, led by the National Nurses United and the Transport Workers, agree with strong environmentalist opposition to Keystone’s construction. Both the green groups and those unions say extraction of the heavy oil from the tar sands would increase carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and global warming. They also raise the specter of ruinous oil spills along the Keystone route.

Soth retorted that TransCanada plans to extract the oil anyway, and then would have several choices on what do with it. Quoting the U.S. State Department’s own draft environmental impact statement on Keystone XL, Soth said one choice is to send it byexisting gas pipelines and rail tank cars to the Eastern U.S.

Another is ship the oil by tanker trucks and barges down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf. Those first two alternatives create no new jobs, Soth said, and the truck-to-rivers route is more environmentally hazardous than Keystone.

But TransCanada has a third choice, Soth and the environmental impact statement said: Ship the Albertan oil westwards and sell it to China. China is already angling for that, Soth warned. Its national oil company, CNOOC, Ltd., offered $15 billion for a Canadian energy firm with “oil sands assets” and a Gulf Coast refinery. And PetroChina bought “a 40% interest in the MacKay River oil sands project.

“The Chinese tend to repatriate their crude oil for processing in China. They generally will not sell the commodity in global markets. If Keystone XL is rejected, market forces and communist ideology will likely combine to redirect some of the Canadian crude away from American consumers,” Soth warned. That would leave the U.S. more dependent on heavy crude from the Middle East and Venezuela, he said.