Duluth News Tribune Op-Ed: Energy infrastructure spells major job opportunities for Wisconsin, Minnesota

Greg E. Sayles of Superior is a representative for the United Association labor union (ua.org) in both Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Much of our nation’s energy infrastructure was built by skilled union labor, like the members of the United Association of plumbing and pipe-fitting. This provided good-paying jobs to families across the country and here in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Our work has provided safe, reliable energy infrastructure that benefits the daily lives of families across the country and right here at home.

More than 2 million workers — accounting for 32 percent of today’s construction-industry workforce — are employed on energy projects.

Hundreds of energy infrastructure projects across the nation — pipelines, storage, processing, rail, and maritime — generate shovel-ready, middle class-sustaining jobs that do not rely on taxpayer funding. A new study shows that infrastructure investments in just the oil and natural-gas sectors could spur up to $1.3 trillion in new private capital investment, supporting 1 million new jobs per year and adding $1.89 trillion to the national GDP between 2017 and 2035.

A substantial number of those jobs will come to our region: an estimated 15,000 jobs for Minnesota and 13,000 for Wisconsin.

The benefits of energy infrastructure extend well beyond jobs and impact the price of the fuel we put in our car, the manufacturing of products here in the United States, and the price we pay for electricity. The benefits of energy infrastructure also contribute to a cleaner environment.

Americans have been enjoying the lowest fuel prices in over a decade. They were made possible by the pipelines and other infrastructure built by skilled union labor. While production in places like Texas, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania has made the U.S. the world’s leading natural-gas and oil producer, that energy must be transported for families and businesses to reap the benefits.

That’s where energy infrastructure comes in, and our region is a critical pipeline hub. Almost 20 percent of the nation’s crude oil passes through Wisconsin’s 1,200 miles of crude pipelines, while Minnesota’s energy infrastructure system moves more than 2 million barrels of Canadian crude oil per day.

Proximity both to major production areas, including the Dakotas and Canada, and to major energy markets like Chicago makes the region a vital crossroads in the U.S. energy-transportation network. Economic activity is being generated across a range of industries, the construction sector in particular.

Nationwide, reliable access to energy has helped drive down utility, product, and other energy-related costs for families, contributing to a $1,337 boost to the average American household budget in 2015. U.S. industrial electricity costs are 30 percent to 50 percent lower than those of our foreign competitors. Savings on power and materials have reduced America’s manufacturing costs overall by 10 percent to 20 percent compared to Europe. That translates to a major competitive advantage for U.S. manufacturers, including our producers of steel, chemicals, refined fuels, plastics, fertilizers, and other products.

Pipelines also contribute to cleaner air. Carbon emissions from power generation have plunged to nearly 30-year lows, and more than 60 percent of the reduction has resulted from switching to clean natural gas — delivered by pipelines.

We are proud of the work we do on our nation’s energy infrastructure and the safety and reliability of the infrastructure we build. Pipelines are one of the safest, most efficient ways to transport the energy the U.S. economy needs. They deliver crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas at a safety rate of 99.999 percent.

Pipeline builders and operators in Wisconsin and Minnesota are committed to maintaining and improving that 99.999 percent safety rate. Skilled, highly trained union workers ensure construction that complies with the highest standards of safety, quality, and environmental stewardship.

Once systems are operational, pipeline operators spend billions of dollars each year to evaluate, inspect, and maintain pipelines, using sophisticated technology like “smart pigs,” which travel inside pipelines, scanning the walls with technologies similar to an ultrasound or MRI.

Currently in Washington, D.C., the pledge is to create jobs through infrastructure investments. Here in Minnesota and Wisconsin, we stand ready to provide the skilled workforce to deliver on that promise, building the energy infrastructure that safely delivers fuel for the economy.

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