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Mark H. Ayers Headshot

Keystone Pipeline -- Weighing Facts Versus Fiction

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Like the vast majority of Americans, the skilled craft professionals who comprise America's Building Trades Unions enjoy and value our nation's environment. In fact, it is not at all unusual for our members to engage in lively discussions about the environment and conservation issues in union halls across the country. In keeping with these concerns, the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) studiously reviewed and digested the environmental claims made by opponents with regard to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline (KXL), as well as the emissions from the Oil Sands crude from Canada that KXL will transport to the United States.

The pipeline's opponents claim that KXL represents a unique new threat to the Ogallala Aquifer, which lies beneath the American Great Plains, suggesting that a spill or leak could contaminate the Aquifer. What they fail to mention, though, is that: 1) a crude oil spill moves so slowly that it would hardly endanger water quality before being successfully contained; and 2) KXL is hardly a unique or new proposal as the Aquifer is already traversed by over 20,000 miles of existing pipeline, with over 2,000 miles of those pipelines transporting hazardous materials. In fact, this assessment was corroborated by Nebraska's State Hydrologist in legislative hearings last December. Further, TransCanada has already agreed to go above and beyond the current industry norm when building Keystone XL by agreeing to 57 safety conditions that the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, has recommended.

Anti-KXL groups claim that crude oil from Alberta's Oil Sands (known as "bitumen") is more corrosive, increasing the likelihood of leaks. But, once bitumen is extracted and converted into crude oil, it looks and acts like any other crude. These opponents have even gone so far as to play on the Oil Sands origin and suggest that there is "sand" in the crude. This is simply not true.

Virtually every national environmental group opposing KXL is also on record claiming that greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the Oil Sands development are significantly greater than other sources of crude oil. In fact, on a "well to wheels" basis, Oil Sands crude is comparable in GHG emissions to oil imported from Nigeria and Venezuela; and, significantly better than some crude oil produced in California.

Undoubtedly, the Sand Hills of Nebraska is the largest wetland ecosystem in the United States. Accordingly, it is critical that following construction, complete restoration is achieved. TransCanada, which will build KXL, has made that commitment to full restoration. Additionally, I am proud to say that experienced, skilled craft workers from America's Building Trades Unions will not only be deployed to ensure the safe construction of this pipeline, but they will also undertake much of the restoration. We do not take this responsibility lightly, because as I said, a vast majority of our members hold strong feelings about the environment and conservation. In 2009, America's Building Trades Unions were active participants with several environmental groups in seeking enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and we our pushing many municipalities across the nation to develop plans to "green" our nation's commercial building stock in order to make them more energy efficient.

Satisfied that the environmental claims being bandied about by KXL opponents were not based in fact, our unions then examined the economic impact of KXL. The Keystone XL pipeline is a "shovel-ready" project that will employ over 20,000 Americans, most of whom will be paid family-supporting wages and benefits. Overall, $14 billion will be invested in this project without one dime of public expenditure.

The Keystone XL pipeline has passed every analysis and review over the last two years, leading the U.S. State Department to conclude that the pipeline would meet all applicable environmental and safety standards. Meanwhile, additional American job creation and economic growth from this important project have been delayed.

We remain hopeful that President Obama will weigh the facts and sign the Canadian-American border crossing permit, so that 20,000 or so hard-working American families can sleep better in the coming months.