Keystone XL supporters, protesters gather downtown
BY ROD WALTON World Staff Writer
Thursday, June 28, 2012
6/28/12 at 3:12 AM
Friends and foes of the Keystone XL Pipeline gathered at all corners of Fourth Street and Denver Avenue at lunchtime Wednesday, focusing their energies on the pros and cons of the project to bring Canadian tar sands oil to Cushing and ultimately the Gulf Coast.
Exchanges between the opposing groups happened under a relentless heat but stayed relatively friendly. The anti-Keystone group of about 12 was outnumbered by at least twice as many laborer and pipefitter union members who said the pipeline holds the key to thousands of good-paying jobs.
Longtime environmentalist Earl Hatley, who organized the protest for his group Clean Energy Future Oklahoma, disagreed.
"It's not worth the destruction of our climate," he said. "That's being very shortsighted."
The Keystone XL is designed to bring tar sands oil, known as bitumen, from the Canadian border across the U.S. to refineries. President Barack Obama delayed approval of the northern leg due to environmental concerns raised by Nebraska officials over the original route through the Sand Hills region of their state. A portion from Steele City, Neb., to Cushing already is operational.
Unions want the cross-border leg and a southern portion to gain approval and start construction as soon as possible. They say the project has been held up for three years because of politics and unwarranted environmental claims.
"We have fought for these high-paying, health-care benefit-giving jobs for some 2 1/2 years," said David Barnett, a special representative for the pipefitters union. "In Canada we don't have a better ally; it's where we should be getting our oil."
The Tulsa District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has until Thursday to rule on a building permit application by Keystone owner TransCanada Corp. The Galveston District approved its 115-mile section to the Gulf earlier this week, while the Fort Worth and Tulsa offices have not ruled on cross-water applications.
"I hope they will not approve the permit," Hatley said. "I know it's a slim chance."
Corps officials indicated that the district had 45 days to rule on TransCanada's permit.
TransCanada spokesman James Prescott released a company statement indicating the pipeline will take all necessary environmental precautions, including protection of waterways and tribal lands.
"We take our responsibility to do everything possible to minimize our environmental footprint very seriously," the statement says. "Once the Gulf Coast Project is completed, it will help move both Canadian and American oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast, where it is critically needed. It will help push out oil from OPEC nations or conflict regions and replace it with safe, secure and reliable access to Canadian and American oil."
TransCanada and labor unions have estimated the project will create up to 20,000 jobs and more than $7 billion in economic development systemwide. These numbers clearly had the attention of those at the rally wearing "Local" T-shirts and sporting placards saying "Unlock Keystone Jobs!"
Laborers Union representative Jeremy Hendricks, who came from Oklahoma City to lead his group, said employers are willing to pay solid wages, offer insurance and pensions that are harder to get these days.
"There's a lot of people hurting for jobs out there," he said.
Hendricks also said the show of union support did not surprise him. There's plenty of non-union support, too, in his opinion.
"Mainstream Oklahoma and mainstream America wants this project to kick off," he said, calling the opposition a "fringe" element.
The unions occupied the northwest and southeast corners of Fourth Street and Denver Avenue, while the anti-Keystone crowd had the southwest and northeast quadrants. On that northeast corner, Keystone foe Jean McMahon of Fort Gibson trumpeted the need for "green jobs" and had a brief, cordial debate with union representative Gary Speegle.
"What I see as right is friendly oil," Speegle said, complaining about the dangers of continuing to import petroleum from the Middle East. "I'd rather have tar sands than a bullet."
McMahon countered that the best energy options lay in alternative sources.
"Build windmills," she told the labor leader.
"No matter how many windmills you build, you still need oil," he replied.
Neither side likely convinced the other.
"Look into the facts, folks - this is a terrible, terrible thing," environmental activist Dwain Camp called out into his megaphone.
"Wrong," pipefitter leader Barnett shouted back. "Every job is necessary," answered another union supporter.
The Keystone XL will cross numerous Oklahoma waterways, including the Cimarron, Red and North Canadian rivers.
Tar sands oil is a thick bitumen that must be mixed with other crude and chemicals to become usable for refining.
"What happens to our water?" anti-pipeline demonstrator Bee Geary said. "We're protecting tar sands oil. We're not talking about traditional oil."
Original Print Headline: Keystone XL friends, foes gather
Rod Walton 918-581-8457
James Dean Wallace with Pipeliners Union Local 798 demonstrates his viewpoint on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline downtown on Wednesday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Dwain Camp of Marlin uses a megaphone to speak against the Keystone XL Pipeline during a downtown protest Wednesday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World