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Crude awakening



Hours before the U.S. State Department held its Sept. 30 hearing on permits for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project, State Chamber of Oklahoma representatives, oil-industry lobbyists and elected officials donned their T-shirts supporting the pipeline and huddled with union bosses and workers to stake out the first speaking spots and show their support at a Midwest City public hearing. The reasons for the unusual alliance are simple: Union workers want construction jobs; the chamber wants commerce; oil companies want a better way to get oil to market and; all agree the resulting supply of Canadian oil would reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil.

“This is about jobs for our families. This is about our national security,” said Reno Hammond, a native Oklahoman and business manager for the Southwest Laborers’ District Council.

right, Union workers listen at a recent meeting.

Proponents claim the construction project will create 13,000 jobs nationally, while supporting development of Canadian reserves and creating 340,000 U.S. jobs and generating $34 billion in government revenue.

Oklahoma City Councilwoman Meg Salyer said the state can expect $1.2 billion in spending, 14,400 direct and indirect jobs and an increase of $874 million in personal income.

“Our gross state product would rise by $1 billion,” she said, “and state and local governments would collect $25 million in additional tax revenue, plus over $600 million in property taxes during pipeline operation.”

But the jobs would be temporary and could come at a heavy price, according to environmentalists and concerned locals who pleaded with department officials to stop the project and protect the state from environmental damage.

Oklahoma Sierra Club Chairman Charles Wesner claims the project would create around 6,000 temporary jobs and less economic impact than proponents suggest. Wesner also said the pipeline would carry corrosive tar sands “containing far more toxic compounds and heavy metals than conventional crude across Oklahoma’s ranch and farmland, crossing almost all our major rivers or their tributaries and important aquifers.”

John Bolenbaugh, a former union worker and whistle-blower from Michigan, came to town to offer words of caution. He participated in the cleanup effort and exposed an alleged cover-up when a 41-year-old pipeline leaked 800,000 gallons of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Bolenbaugh stressed that the contamination from just one barrel of crude oil in a lake is enough to render it unsafe for drinking or agriculture.

“Would you rather have a job for two years or safe drinking water for your children?” Bolenbaugh said.

Jim Prescott, a representative for TransCanada, said concerns about bitumen leaks and contamination are overblown and that environmentalists are presenting a “false choice” between the pipeline and the environment. He said materials are not as dangerous and corrosive as suggested.

Photo by Mark Hancock

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